By Kirk Ross / Carolina Public Press
A repeal-and-replace effort is the latest legislation proposed on HB2, but a path forward to eliminate or sufficiently change the controversial law is unclear more than a month after the General Assembly reconvened.
The divide over what to do about the Public Facilities and Privacy Act, passed during a special session in March 2016, remains exceptionally stark in the wake of a failed repeal attempt in a special session in late December. The already heated rhetoric on the issue grew more intense last week with an upcoming NCAA deadline on scheduling of championship games. A letter circulated last week by the North Carolina Sports Assembly said the state would lose all championship games through 2022, an estimated loss of $250 million.
Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative Democratic leadership conducted a press conference Tuesday morning in which he announced a new compromise proposal. He called for leaders of both parties, including himself, to work to find common ground.
The three-step proposal would repeal HB2, enact stronger penalties on criminal activity in public restrooms and dressing rooms and require local governments to give state lawmakers 30-day notice before any votes on anti-discrimination measures.
Cooper’s announcement came after state GOP chair Robin Hayes and party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse stepped up pressure on Cooper, whom Republicans have accused of scuttling previous deals.
During a Feb. 7 press conference on Jones Street, the pair called on Cooper to break the impasse on the bill.
“Where’s his plan?” Woodhouse said.
Democrats in the legislature fired back Feb. 9 with two bills that share a repeal-and-replace strategy, repealing HB2 and replacing it with a statewide anti-discrimination law.
The law would prevent discrimination in housing, education, employment, credit, insurance and public accommodations because of “race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, sex, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military or veteran status or genetic information.”
The bill attempts in part to answer critics of repeal who say cities will be free to create their own ordinances.
The bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, and co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe.
“HB2 denies equal protection to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” Van Duyn said at a press conference announcing the legislation. “It targets them and excludes them from the same rights and assurances so many of us take for granted.”
Fisher highlighted the bill’s wide ranging protections.
“This is a bill for all citizens for all walks of life,” she said.
Like a full repeal bill introduced on the first day of the session by incoming House minority leader Rep Jeff Jackson, D-Wake, the new legislation faces an improbable journey.
House and Senate leaders have said repeatedly that any HB2 change would require approval by a majority of the Republican caucus.
At least two WNC legislators, including Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, and Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Yancey, have said they would not vote for a repeal.
In a recent Q&A with The Washington Posts’s The Fix, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said he has been active in trying to find a way to draft legislation that could pass, but stressed the difficulty.
He told The Fix that there is “not a lot of trust between the players” after the repeal effort in December unraveled.