Bipartisan H.B. 2 repeal bill garners support of industry, opposed by governor

H.B. 186 repeals House Bill 2 and expands statewide discrimination protections, but referendum provisions eliciting protests from leading Democrats may sink chances of passage

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Representative Chuck McGrady speaks along with other lawmakers and North Carolina business leaders during a press conference on House Bill 186 at the Legislative Building in Raleigh

RALEIGH — A bipartisan group of lawmakers sponsoring legislation that would repeal the controversial House Bill 2 were joined by bevy of business and industry representatives Tuesday to provide updates on the status of potential compromise amid public opposition by Gov. Roy Cooper and Democratic leadership in the legislature.”What’s important about this press conference is the bipartisan support that this bill has garnered because of its thoughtful framework and its sincere attempt to try to reach a true compromise addressing the ongoing challenges of House Bill 2,” said co-sponsor and Deputy Majority Whip Rep. John Bradford (R-Mecklenburg).House Bill 186 would repeal H.B. 2 in its entirety while declaring the regulation of multi-occupancy bathrooms and locker rooms the exclusive domain of the state legislature, unless the facilities in question are in direct control of a city. The bill also expands a declaration of statewide employment discrimination prohibitions, adding protections on the basis of citizenship, veteran status, pregnancy and genetic information.Despite receiving support from business chambers, industry and a bevy of local and state elected officials, the most recent attempt at compromise legislation has been slow to get traction with Democrats opposed to one particular provision.”The bill as it is written now does not address the rights of the LGBT community,” said the Senate Democrat’s Minority Whip, Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe), in a press conference Tuesday morning.The point of contention among Democrats opposed to the bill is the requirement therein that municipalities must offer local voters a referendum on any adopted expansions of protected classes before they are to take effect.House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) compared the referendum provision to putting civil rights to a public vote, saying Tuesday, “My basic philosophy is you shouldn’t put the rights of a minority on the ballot.”Currently, H.B. 186 has been sent to the House Rules Committee while its key sponsors tackle the unenviable task of coalition-building in order to reach a critical mass of support.”As I’ve expressed repeatedly, I don’t intend to move the bill out of Rules until I know I’ve got the votes to do that,” said primary bill sponsor Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson). “The mathematical formula is rather simple; I need about 35 Democrats and put them with about 35 Republicans to give enough of a margin for error to be able to move the bill in the House.”While McGrady said he is making progress in reaching those numbers in the Republican caucus, the bill’s chances really hinge on the requisite level of support from Democrats.”At this point it isn’t going to move forward unless I get the Democratic votes,” said McGrady. “I don’t get the Democratic votes unless the governor first gets the Democratic votes.”A compromise bill in December that was initially poised to address H.B. 2 during a special session of the legislature fell apart as Cooper, then governor-elect, called on Democrats to reverse their support of the bill. Cooper is again advocating opposition to the latest repeal effort based on the referendum provision, while sponsors of the bill indicate the governor has not contacted them to negotiate the bill’s details.”You can’t negotiate with yourself and right now I haven’t heard from the governor,” said McGrady before cautioning that, “if changes are made in the bill to accommodate the governor’s concerns that could affect my vote count with Republicans while gaining the Democratic votes. The referendum piece is one that gets me Republican votes and loses me Democrat votes. It’s not accidental that Rep. Davis is very much on record as being a strong proponent of the referendum, and [Reps. Marvin] Lucas and [Ken] Goodmon have problems with the referendum.”The balancing act will be precarious as bill sponsors attempt to address the concerns of opposing factions, but the Henderson County Republican is optimistic.”If I didn’t believe that I can get around that issue and accommodate various people’s interests I wouldn’t have put forward the bill,” said McGrady. “You’ve got to thread the needle here.”If the bipartisan group of lawmakers achieve sufficient support for the compromise legislation to pass the House, and subsequently clear the Senate, Cooper will face a tough decision on whether or not to veto a bill which, if enacted, would largely fulfill his central campaign promise of repealing House Bill 2 and repairing the state’s reputation.