RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The drive supporting a new proposal to repeal North Carolina's "bathroom bill" is stuck in idle as Republican lawmakers and the new Democratic governor disagree about how to empower local governments to expand some LGBT rights.
Supporters call the bipartisan legislation a compromise to undo the law known as House Bill 2, which has cost North Carolina some conventions, concerts, sporting events and business expansions. The proposal includes some add-ons, however, that gay rights groups and many Democrats oppose.
The measure, filed last week, was parked in a committee earlier this week as GOP backers and Democratic opponents accuse one another of refusing to negotiate. A deal between GOP leaders and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper last December to repeal the law fell apart amid partisan acrimony.
The issue now is more complicated because Republicans are divided on whether even to repeal HB2. That means Democratic support is necessary to pass the repeal measure.
"It won't move until I know I've got the votes," GOP Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville, the bill's chief Republican sponsor, told reporters Tuesday.
The impasse worries state boosters because time is running out before the NCAA decides in the coming weeks whether HB2 should prevent North Carolina sites from hosting championship events through 2022. More than 130 event bids have been submitted from North Carolina, representing more than $250 million in potential economic impact, according to the North Carolina Sports Association.
"There is urgency in the air in Raleigh," Cooper wrote in a weekend online post.
The NCAA already took several events away from North Carolina this academic year due to the controversy. The NBA also moved its All-Star game out of Charlotte and the Atlantic Coast Conference moved its football title game out of the city.
HB2 requires transgender people to use restrooms in public buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. The law also blocked state antidiscrimination protections from covering sexual orientation and gender identity. Republicans approved the measure after the Charlotte City Council voted in February 2016 to allow transgender people to use public bathrooms aligned with their gender identity.
Under the latest proposal, lawmakers would still control policy decisions over the use of multi-stall bathrooms in public buildings. The measure also would increase penalties for certain crimes that occur in public restrooms or locker rooms. Cooper said he believes a compromise can be worked out, but he can't support a section that could require local referenda on local ordinances that expand anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
"The referendum has always been a deal breaker for our side," said House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Raleigh. "We oppose putting people's civil rights directly on the ballot."
Cooper said Republican leaders, particularly GOP House Speaker Tim Moore, aren't at the negotiating table and have broken promises to Democrats. Moore fired back Monday, accusing the governor of sabotaging the compromise and urging Democrats not to commit to the bill. Two House Democrats have withdrawn as sponsors.
McGrady said Tuesday he's "not going to draw any lines in the sand" concerning what can be changed. And Cooper spokeswoman Sadie Weiner wrote negotiating on the referendum provision "would mean that the governor goes along with some provisions he doesn't like very much, but he's willing to do so for the sake of progress." Any bill also must clear the Senate to reach Cooper's desk.
The Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina anchored a news conference Tuesday opposing the latest proposal, saying nothing but a complete HB2 repeal, with no restrictions, would get rid of the state's stain of discrimination. Business executives said the law is keeping North Carolina companies from attracting the best talent or attracting capital to grow.
"We have this massive black eye which is HB2," said Justin Miller, who leads a Raleigh-based startup company.
Representatives of several state and regional business organizations joined the authors of the compromise measure for another news conference Tuesday. They praised the legislators for trying to kick start the conversation about repealing HB2.
"We think that it gives us a glimmer of hope," said Will Webb of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, which helped bring the NBA and ACC events to Charlotte.