RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Lawmakers in Raleigh worked into the night at the North Carolina General Assembly on Tuesday, hoping to strike a last-minute deal to repeal House Bill 2.
The controversial legislation, commonly referred to as the "bathroom bill" was passed in March 2016. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a new bill in the North Carolina House of Representatives last week hoping to repeal the bill before its first birthday.
A week later, the effort to repeal HB2 appeared stalled.
On Tuesday morning, Republican Rep. John Bradford from Mecklenburg County held a news conference with nearly two-dozen lawmakers, city council members, lobbyists and business owners, all of whom showed up in hopes of highlighting the important of reaching a deal that would repeal the bill.
Bradford was joined by Democrat state Senator Joel Ford (Mecklenburg) and two members of the Charlotte City Council, Democrat James Mitchell and Republican Ed Driggs. Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones was also in Raleigh.
In a brief statement during the press conference, Mitchell highlighted the importance of finding a deal to repeal HB2 and thanked the lawmakers who had thrown their support behind HB186, the latest bipartisan compromise.
"We're truly encouraged by this process," Mitchell said. "The states need a compromise to move forward."
Charlotte-area business leaders were also on hand Tuesday, including Charlotte Chamber of Commerce President Bob Morgan, who said it was critical HB2 be repealed.
But Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) said he had not been approached by Governor Cooper or other Democrats who have said they oppose the legislation about trying to work out a deal.
"You can't negotiation with yourself and, right now, I haven't heard from the Governor," McGrady said.
Despite that, McGrady said he was eager to finally reach a deal to repeal the bill so lawmakers to move on to other things.
"I want to get this off the table," McGrady said. "It's sucking all the wind out of every other issue we've got out there. Some really important ones."
Democrat sponsor stands firm
Also on Tuesday, Democrat Rep. Ken Goodman (Richmond) sat down with WBTV for an exclusive interview in which he reiterated his support for HB186.
Goodman is an original sponsor of the bill.
"I read the bill, I think it's the best solution that we can get and when I decide to do something, I don't move back and forth," Goodman said. "It's the same bill I signed onto so I can't think of any reason to take my name off."
Goodman's continued support of the legislation comes after two other House Democrats agreed to co-sponsor the bill but then withdrew their support.
Those members, including Rep. Rodney Moore from Mecklenburg County, said they were led to believe Republicans were willing to remove a provision of the bill requiring local governments to hold a referendum to approve a local non-discrimination ordinance.
Democrat leaders—including Cooper and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson—have accused Republicans of lying to get Democrats to support their bill.
"When Chuck McGrady talked to us and we talked about the bill, Rep. Lucas and I both said we both do not like the referendum piece in the bill and he told us he would do his best to get it out, that he could live with getting it out but he did not promise that as a condition to get on the bill," Goodman said.
But Jackson, the House Minority Leader, said Goodman and fellow Democrat bill sponsor Rep. Marvin Lucas (Cumberland) left their colleagues with a different understanding after speaking at a caucus meeting on Monday.
"I can tell you that those two gentlemen asked for an opportunity to speak to our caucus and explain their position," Jackson said. "I can tell you the members of our caucus believed the referendum provision was coming out."
Goodman said he thought more Democrats would be willing to support the legislation if Cooper would come out in favor of the bill.
"I think there are other Democrats who, at the end of the day, would vote for the bill. They want to maintain an aura of solidarity now, they want to support the Governor's position," Goodman said. "I certainly understand that and I respect that but I think there are a good number of Democrats who would, at the end of the day vote for the bill and I think that if we can get the Governor to agree or get the Republicans to move a little bit and agree, I think if Governor Cooper said this is something I can live with, I think we can get a lot of Democrats."
House Speaker blames Cooper
On Tuesday night, House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, voiced his frustration with Cooper. Specifically, Moore criticized Cooper's work to urge House Democrats to oppose HB186.
"What the Governor should also not be doing is calling members and getting them to withdraw their support of bill," Moore said. "That's not proper and that doesn't show good faith to negotiate."
Moore accused Cooper of violating the separation of powers doctrine, which contemplates three co-equal branches of government. In North Carolina, Cooper runs the Executive Branch while Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger run the Legislative Branch.
Moore said his caucus is unwilling to agree to Cooper's demand that the referendum provision be taken out.
"That seems to be the sticking point where the Governor seems to have drawn some kind of line in the sand. But, in all candor, the Governor should not be involved. This should be members of the legislature doing this," Moore said. "I think the Governor knows the referendum provision is something that's very important to a number of members of the House; to, not only some Republicans but some Democrats. Because there are a number of members who believe there needs to be a check against a runaway city council."
Jackson, the House Minority Leader, again fought back against Moore's claims that Cooper was calling to pressure House Democrats.
"That's an unfortunate comment. What I think the Governor is trying to do is call people and correct the record. I think the Governor is letting people know that the referendum is not coming out," Jackson told WBTV Tuesday night.
Cooper issues new statement
A spokesman for Cooper issued a new statement in response to a request for an interview Tuesday night. WBTV requested another interview with Cooper after we sat down with Moore. We wanted to give him an opportunity to respond to the accusations that he was interfering in House negotiations. Cooper's press office never responded.