RALEIGH — North Carolina lawmakers filed bipartisan legislation Wednesday aimed at breaking an impasse over the state’s “bathroom bill,” but it’s likely to face tough going in the Republican-controlled legislature.
Two House Republicans and two Democrats sponsored the measure that would repeal House Bill 2, the law approved last March. But the proposal contains add-ons that led gay rights groups as well as Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — who prefers a simple repeal — to immediately pan the measure.
HB2 requires transgender people to use multi-stall restrooms in schools and other public buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates and blocks expansion of LGBT rights in local ordinances and state law. It drew national protests.
Republican state Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville, one of the sponsors of the compromise bill, said he hopes it can secure enough votes for passage in his chamber. A deal between Cooper and Republican legislative leaders in December to repeal HB2 fell apart amid political acrimony.
“It’s a bill that I view as sort of a bipartisan path forward to deal with an issue that is very complex and needs to be resolved,” McGrady told reporters.
GOP lawmakers approved HB2 in response to Charlotte city leaders approving a February 2016 ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity. The state law prompted some businesses and sporting events to spurn North Carolina. The NBA moved its All-Star game out of Charlotte, and the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference withdrew championship events this academic year.
Attempts at a resolution have mounted after worries the NCAA would soon remove from consideration local bids to host events through 2022.
“I feel like I can get a majority of Republicans and majority of Democrats on this bill if Gov. Cooper will help me get those Democratic votes, and I think that this is a good start,” McGrady said.
But Cooper said in a statement he was “concerned that this legislation as written fails the basic test of restoring our reputation, removing discrimination and bringing jobs and sports back to North Carolina.”
Any bill also would need to pass the GOP-led Senate. Both chambers would either need to have overwhelming Republican support or decent backing from both Democrats and Republicans to withstand any potential veto from Cooper. Cooper offered his own legislation last week, but even the same LGBT rights groups against Wednesday’s proposal opposed his offer.
Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro said anything but a “clean repeal of HB2” is “a distraction from the real issue.”
Under the legislation, lawmakers would still control policy decisions over the use of multi-stall bathrooms in public buildings. Cities could expand other anti-discrimination protections, like those covering sexual orientation, after a four-month process. But a referendum on the ordinance would be required if opponents get above a threshold of signatures of registered voters in the city.
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Raleigh said the referendum was “a non-starter for me … I never think that it’s a good idea to put the rights of the minority on the ballot.”
Governing boards of University of North Carolina and community college campuses could also expand anti-discrimination protections beyond what the proposal adds to current state law.
The measure also would increase penalties for certain crimes that occur in public restrooms or locker rooms. It would address concerns by some HB2 supporters that letting people use public bathrooms based on gender identity could be used as a pretense by sexual predators. But there’s little evidence the issue is a widespread problem.
Social conservatives, meanwhile, say HB2 should remain in place.
Wednesday’s bill filing came the same day President Donald Trump’s administration lifted federal guidelines that said transgender students should be allowed to use public school bathrooms matching their chosen gender identity.