House Speaker Tim Moore said Thursday that he’s working with Senate leader Phil Berger on proposed changes to House Bill 2, but he said Indiana-style “religious freedom” legislation won’t be part of the new bill.
Moore said Republicans are instead considering what he called a “conscience protection provision” as part of HB2 changes.
Speaking to reporters, Moore said the HB2 changes won’t be filed in a bill just yet while House Republicans consider the proposal this weekend. He offered few details about what’s on the table, but he dismissed Twitter posts from House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson, who said the GOP wanted to replace HB2 with language similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA.
“That was fake news right there,” Moore said. “There is not a RFRA provision being discussed.”
Moore’s comments come after Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady said Wednesday night that “RFRA has been discussed, RFRA light, RFRA first cousin.” McGrady had been leading HB2 negotiations with Democrats, but he said he had not seen a copy of Moore’s latest proposal.
Indiana passed a RFRA in 2015 but changed it to answer critics who said it allowed for discrimination against LGBT people. North Carolina considered a similar law that year.
“Anything that has been talked about would be mirroring what’s already in the state constitution,” Moore said Thursday, explaining that the provision would allow residents to sue the state “if they feel the government has done something that would intervene” with constitutional rights.
Moore argued that such a provision would differ from Indiana’s RFRA because that law allowed people to sue businesses. But Sarah Gillooly, lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said the legislation Moore described could still enable discrimination against the LGBT community and other groups on religious grounds. “I’m not sure that there’s any distinction between what we’ve seen laid out and what’s known as RFRA,” she said, adding that religious freedom “doesn’t give us the right to harm others.”
The latest HB2 discussions among Republican lawmakers are taking place one year after the controversial LGBT law was passed. And the movement comes as a key deadline approaches for future NCAA sports championship events: If no action on HB2 is taken in the coming weeks, North Carolina will likely be blocked from hosting events through 2022.
“Absent any change in the law, our position remains the same regarding hosting current or future events in the state,” the NCAA said Thursday in a statement posted to Twitter and emailed to news media. “As the state knows, next week our various sports committees will begin making championship site selections for 2018-2022 based upon bids received from across the country. ... Those decisions are final and an announcement of all sites will be made on April 18.”
Asked about the legislature’s timeline for HB2 changes, Moore noted that the issue was the subject of lengthy GOP caucus meetings Wednesday and Thursday. “We’re taking whatever time is necessary,” he said. “We’re not going to move forward until a majority of the caucus is prepared to do something.”
Moore said he’s been talking with business leaders and others, and that “if I didn’t have pretty good assurances” the potential HB2 changes would end boycotts, “I wouldn’t be wasting my time.”
“I think a lot of companies and other entities that initially signed onto these bans ... are having a little bit of buyer’s remorse and are themselves looking for a way to get out of this mess,” he added.
Moore said legislative leaders won’t be “backing off of the privacy issues” at the center of HB2. The law was prompted by fears about a Charlotte nondiscrimination ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. The ordinance, which was repealed in December as part of a failed deal with the legislature, drew opposition from conservatives who said it would allow men to enter women’s bathrooms.
“If there’s any entity out there that’s going to tell North Carolina that we have to let men in women’s showers, that’s just too bad, we’re not going to change that,” he said.
But he said Republican leaders are looking for other ways to address the bathroom issue. “There are things that could be changed (in HB2) to make us identical to neighboring states” such as Tennessee and South Carolina. “There would be absolutely no justification to treat North Carolina different than any of those other states.”
Moore declined to provide further details about which Tennessee and South Carolina laws new legislation would match. Local governments’ ability to pass nondiscrimination ordinances – banned under HB2 – would be “perhaps a little more limited” under a new bill, he said.
“That’s still in discussions, and it’s probably not appropriate to get into right now,” he said.
Jackson said what Republicans are proposing would be “worse than House Bill 2.”
“They’ve just decided not to compromise with Democrats and do a Republican-only bill” that would then be vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, he says.
Jackson said Moore should instead allow a vote on a modified version of an HB2 repeal compromise proposed by McGrady. While Cooper and other Democrats had opposed a provision in that bill that would allow referendum votes on controversial local nondiscrimination ordinances, Jackson said a change to the referendum provision would mean about 40 House Democrats would support it. That compromise would allow referendums only for a short period of time after HB2 is repealed.
“It had more than enough (votes) to pass,” Jackson said. But Moore said that’s not the case based on his count of GOP legislators. “There were not enough Republicans that would vote for that, even if every Democrat voted for it,” he said Thursday. “It was going to be less than 50 votes.”