RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - New legislation, filed Wednesday, in the North Carolina House of Representatives, is gaining additional bipartisan support as it seeks to repeal the state's controversial House Bill 2.
House Bill 186 was introduced with bipartisan support, being filed by two Republicans and two Democrats. Since then 15 additional lawmakers have signed on as sponsors of the bill, which includes three additional Democrats and twelve Republicans.
The bill seeks to fully repeal HB2 and update to state's non-discrimination laws to match federal protections.
PREVIOUS ARTICLE: Bipartisan bill to repeal HB2 filed in General Assembly
State colleges and universities, along with some other organizations, would have the option to expand their non-discrimination policies beyond those spelled out in the bill.
Republican representative Chuck McGrady, who was listed as one of the initial sponsors, who sat down with WBTV after introducing the bill, saying Democratic co-sponsors for the bill was "critical."
"This is the first bipartisan bill of this type. We've had bills introduced in the past and its all the Republicans or all the Democrats," he said. "This is the first time we have a bill that Republicans and Democrats - at least some of us - can come together on."
The bill looks to pre-empt access to multi-occupancy bathrooms, showers, and changing facilities. It allows cities to regulate single-occupancy bathrooms. Sponsors hope the bill if passed, would keep people from pointing to a law in North Carolina and say it is discriminatory regarding bathroom usage.
The legislation requires cities who want to pass their own, broader, non-discrimination laws to take extra steps before enacting such ordinances. There will be limitations on those ordinances, according to the proposed bill, including that ordinances cannot apply outside of the territorial jurisdiction, can't use contracting power to impose ordinance provisions, can't apply to bathroom access or religious organizations.
The proposal would allow cities to provide nondiscrimination for its own employees. It also seeks to add increased penalties for crimes committed in a bathroom "regardless of motivation."
McGrady called the bill a "mixture of ideas that go back for several months."
New lawmakers join the mix
Six lawmakers from the Charlotte-area are now listed as sponsors of the bill; three from Mecklenburg County, one from Cabarrus County, one from Iredell County and one from Union County.
Democrat Rodney W. Moore represents District 99 in Mecklenburg County and is the only local Democrat listed as a sponsor of the bill.
The local Republican lawmakers include representatives John R. Bradford, III (District 98), Andy Dulin (District 104), Linda P. Johnson (District 83), John A. Fraley (District 95), and D. Craig Horn (District 68).
WBTV reached out to all six local lawmakers, asking about their support for the proposed legislation.
Former Charlotte City Councilman and current Republican Representative Andy Dulin spoke to WBTV's Steve Crump by phone Thursday evening.
"One of the things that I like about of House Bill 186 is no one is completely happy with it. I believe it to be a true compromise bill," Dulin said. "People on the right are irritated and people on the far left are irritated. What we're gonna try to do is get people to come together somewhere in the middle."
"Certainly, [House Bill 189 is] not going to move at lightning speed like HB2, but it has a lot of attention," he said. "Both sides know it's important to the state to keep things moving forward."
"I am supporting HB186 because many people and businesses in my district want HB2 dealt with and put behind us," said Representative John A. Fraley who represents Iredell County. "Additionally, I believe this new bill will enable us to continue the Republican led economic resurgence in North Carolina and help us restore the forward thinking reputation of our state while continuing to provide the privacy people expect in their lives."
Representative D. Craig Horn, who represents Union County, said the bill is a "straightforward attempt to bring the controversy over HB2 to a mutually acceptable conclusion."
"H186 assures the privacy protections in bathrooms, showers and changing facilities that every North Carolinian desires and provides policy consistency across our state," Horn continued. "H186 also allows North Carolina cities to regulate single-occupancy bathrooms and multi-occupancy bathrooms located in all property owned or controlled by the municipality but excludes from their control bathrooms in schools and privately owned facilities. H186 does expand the statewide non-discrimination protections enacted in HB2 to match the federal standard."
"H186 takes us back to pre-HB2 and pre-Charlotte ordinance days of early 2016 by offering a sensible bi-partisan proposal that truly represents a compromise and not an ultimatum," he said.
But not everyone sees the proposed bill as a good thing.
About two hours after HB186 was filed, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper issued a statement with concerns about the bill.
"We must repeal House Bill 2 and I remain committed to getting that done. But I am 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. I will keep working with the legislature."
Groups speak out against bill
Groups such as Equality North Carolina, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the NC Values Coalition have all spoken out against the bill.
Equality NC and the HRC strongly condemned the proposal, saying it would "double down on the most discriminatory provisions of North Carolina's HB2."
The groups took issue with the bill's limitations on non-discrimination laws that can be passed by individual cities, saying they "prevent cities from passing meaningful non-discrimination protections - forbidding them from passing ordinances ensuring transgender people have access to restrooms."
"[The legislation also] prevent[s] cities from implementing policies that stop taxpayer funds from being used by contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ people," the statement continued. "It would also impose additional new and unnecessary penalties for crimes committed in restrooms, and it would create a mechanism for non-discrimination ordinances to be subject to a burdensome referendum process."
"This failure of leadership is unprecedented. The clock has run out on the time for political gamesmanship, and what we desperately need is the full and complete repeal of HB2 to fix our state and move on with repairing our image," said Chris Sgro, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina. "Instead of taking meaningful action, today Chuck McGrady in conjunction with Phil Berger and Tim Moore doubled down on the harm our state and LGBTQ people have already suffered. I'm certain this will not bring back business or sporting events, and only serves to reinforce the damage. We can still fix this -- by allowing for the immediate vote on a clean repeal of HB2. Everything else is a distraction from the real issue."
North Carolina Values Coalition, a group that says it advocates for pro-family positions, also took issue with the bill's stance on the ordinance but says the bill shouldn't allow them at all.
"North Carolina has led the Nation in enacting common sense protections for children's privacy, and now the Trump administration has agreed with our leaders. Because of the new federal policy, North Carolina's privacy law-HB2- remains more vital than ever as efforts to strip away privacy protections will shift even more to the state level," Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald said. "State lawmakers have a responsibility to protect the privacy and dignity of all North Carolinians."
"Our lawmakers should reject Representative McGrady's misguided bill that does nothing to stop cities from passing the same unlawful, coercive ordinances that started this debate in Charlotte and leaves the state without a policy on privacy in bathrooms," Fitzgerald continued. "Lawmakers should stand by HB2 because it is the only way to ensure that privacy, dignity, and common sense rule in North Carolina."
Business groups speak out in support of new bill
Several major business groups in North Carolina have spoken out in favor of the proposed legislation.
The State Chamber of Commerce said it is supportive of the bipartisan effort.
"The North Carolina Chamber and the statewide business community have been clear about our goals on this issue; we are encouraged and supportive of House Bill 186 as a bipartisan effort to move toward a resolution," said Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the North Carolina Chamber. "We encourage continued dialogue and collaboration among elected leaders to pass a solution."
The CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) said House Bill 186 is a "good start toward finding common ground."
"We commend the sponsors of HB 186 for coming forth with a bipartisan approach to solving a complex issue," said Lynn Minges, President & CEO of the NCRLA. "We believe this bill is a good start toward finding common ground, and we are encouraged that there will be continued collaboration from all sides involved."
The group represents the interests of over 18,000 food service establishments and 1,700 lodging properties across the state.
NC REALTORS said it has been watching the impact of House Bill 2 since it was passed last year.
"Unfortunately, we have seen unintended economic consequences that continue to harm our state and its image across the country," the group wrote.
While the group never took a formal position on HB2, it thanked the bipartisan group for coming up with a "compromise proposal," saying it believes the proposal is "reasonable and protects all citizens of North Carolina."
"This will continue the prosperity of our state and it's economic future," said NC REALTORS Chief Executive Officer Andrea Bushnell. "REALTORS have consistently supported policies of inclusion in both housing and our profession. We are especially happy to see that specific language has been included in the bill which expressly and explicitly prohibits anti-discrimination in housing decisions. We look forward to working with all parties, the House, the Senate, Governor, republicans and democrats alike, to see a reasonable compromise become law."
HB2 was passed after the Charlotte City Council passed its own non-discrimination ordinance that allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. The Council repealed its ordinance in December as part of a would-be compromise deal that was expected to see the repeal of HB2 by the Republican-controlled legislature.
EXTENDED COVERAGE: Click here for extended coverage on House Bill 2
Lawmakers failed to repeal the controversial law, though, during a special session called four days before Christmas.
Charlotte leaders weigh in
Charlotte leadership appears to be split on the decision to propose the new bill.
Mayor Jennifer Roberts tweeted her opposition to the bill from her personal Twitter account Wednesday night.
"I am disappointed that our #NCGA continues to play games with our economy & our people by failing to hold a vote on a clean repeal of #HB2," she wrote.
Thursday morning, Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles tweeted that she was encouraged by the new bill and the possible repeal of HB2.
"Glad to see bipartisan bill introduced by #NCGA open to critical debate to repeal #HB2 so we can move forward," she tweeted. "Hearing more about the bipartisan HB2 bill; encourage the debate in the best interest of all of NC - repeal HB2."
Can sports be saved in NC?
The new legislation comes after weeks of discussions amongst Republican lawmakers about how to address HB2 in a way that would settle the issue for organizations like the NBA and NCAA.
Both leagues announced they were pulling major sporting events from Charlotte in 2016 after HB2 was passed and multiple compromise efforts to repeal the legislation failed.
McGrady said he thinks the bill does enough to get the NBA and the NCAA back into North Carolina.
"Yes. Why put forward a bill that doesn't solve the problem?" he replied. "I was hoping, frankly, that by the end of the day I would have a bill that Governor Cooper and Speaker Moore would be happy with, and the Pro Tem also, but we're not there."