Here is the one thing on which most people on Jones Street profess to agree: HB 2, the much-hated so-called bathroom law that has besmirched the state’s reputation, cost it hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity and numerous sports championships, lost its governor his reelection, and, oh yeah, enshrined anti-LGBTQ bigotry into state statute, has to go. Beyond that, agreement is hard to come by.
Most Democrats want a straight repeal, though they’re willing to bend, as evidenced by Governor Cooper’s proposed compromise, which would stiffen penalties for crimes committed in bathroomsto offset conservative fears of men posing as women to gain access to women’s facilities, which doesn’t actually happenand require municipalities to give a thirty-day notice before passing their own nondiscrimination ordinances, which in turn would give the legislature plenty of time to preempt them.
Many Republicans, meanwhile, want something that looks more like a repeal in name onlyenough to get this monkey off their backs, but not enough to substantially improve protections for LGBTQ citizens, especially transgender citizens. This desire has most recently manifested in a “compromise” called HB 186, which is backed by some business groups and received tentative support from the ACC commissioner. It would repeal HB 2 but forbid cities from passing ordinances guaranteeing transgender individuals access to restrooms that conform with their gender identity. Also, while it would add veterans and pregnant women to the state’s nondiscrimination law, it would leave it to local governments to enact protections for LGBTQ peopleand even then, opponents, with just a few signatures, could put the LGBTQ community’s civil rights up for a referendum.
Over the weekend, Cooper took to Medium to object to HB 186, which “subjects the rights of the minority to a vote of the majority. It would be like putting the Civil Rights Act to a popular vote in cities in the South during the 1960s.” Instead, he suggested, it would be better to require city and town councils to pass these ordinances with a majority-plus-one vote. And, he argued, Republican leaders conned a handful of Democrats into getting on boardthus lending HB 186 the veneer of bipartisanshipby promising that the legislature would revisit the referendum provision, only to renege.
“This is not a Republican compromise with Democrats; it’s a Republican compromise with Republicans,” Cooper wrote.
On Monday, House Speaker Tim Moore clapped back in a statement: “Governor Cooper should stop playing political games, stop trying to please special interest groups, and stop attempting to sabotage legislative efforts to find consensus on both sides of the aisle and among the business community. This effort takes careful compromise, and House Bill 186 is a real solution that actually addresses conflicts with House Bill 2, finds common ground across stakeholder communities, and fully protects the privacy and safety of North Carolinians.”
It’s worth noting that, if they stuck together, Moore’s Republicans could repeal HB 2 and replace it with whatever they wanted without a single Democratic vote. With their supermajorities, they could override Cooper’s veto, too. But Moore doesn’t have the votes, so he needs Democrats. And he can’t get Democrats without doing something his base considers a bridge too far.
In fact, on Monday, state representative and HB 186 sponsor Chuck McGrady announced that he wouldn’t move ahead without Cooper. “I don’t have a path forward if I don’t get the Democrats with me,” he told reporters.
So, for now, the most likely scenario appears to be stalemate. And plenty of blame to go around.