Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday offered what he called a “common-sense compromise” to repeal House Bill 2, but it quickly drew fire from the law’s supporters – and critics.
Flanked by Democratic legislative leaders, Cooper called for repeal coupled with stricter penalties for bathroom crimes and a requirement for local governments to notify lawmakers 30 days before adopting any non-discrimination ordinance.
At a news conference, he said it was “urgent” to repeal the law, citing decisions the NCAA is expected to make in the next few days or weeks to select venues for championship events over the next six years. N.C. cities and schools have proposed 133 venues for NCAA events. They would have an estimated economic impact of $250 million.
Asked about Cooper’s proposed compromise, Senate leader Phil Berger dismissed the proposal as nothing that “really changes anything.” And the two advocacy groups that have fought against HB2 – Equality NC and the national Human Rights Campaign – denounced Cooper’s proposal.
An effort to repeal the law, which came in response to a Charlotte ordinance that extended LGBT protections, fell apart in December. A deal called for full repeal if Charlotte would rescind its ordinance. After Berger, an Eden Republican, proposed a bill that would have repealed the law while adding a six-month moratorium on ordinances like Charlotte’s, Cooper urged Senate Democrats not to support it. Their votes helped kill the measure.
“The Republican (legislative) leadership has challenged me to offer yet another compromise proposal,” Cooper said.
Cooper called for repealing HB2 and enacting tougher penalties for crimes in bathrooms and locker rooms. HB2 supporters have said they worry about people pretending to be of the opposite sex committing such crimes. The governor also called for a 30-day period for local governments to notify the General Assembly before enacting any anti-discrimination ordinances.
The House minority leader, Rep. Darren Jackson, introduced the plan as legislation late Tuesday. The bill would add longer sentences for felonies such as indecent exposure, rape or peeping.
“I’m not sure we’re hearing anything new from (Cooper) at this point,” Berger said. “The threshold question is, what is the governor’s position on whether men should be allowed to share restrooms, locker rooms and showers with women and girls? .... And until we find out what his position is on this, the idea of trotting out something like this and calling it a compromise seems to be to be just a perpetuation of the current status.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican, said Cooper’s proposal “will create a state-sanctioned ‘Look But Don’t Touch’ policy in our bathrooms.”
“Heterosexual men will be able to access women’s showers and bathrooms by simply posing as a transgender individual,” he said. “They will be able to watch women and children shower, or shower next to them. As long as the man doesn’t touch them, assault them or film them, no legal protection would be afforded the offended woman or child. Nothing.”
Existing law includes criminal penalties for crimes such as stalking, secret peeping and indecent exposure. Cooper’s proposal and Jackson’s bill would toughen those penalties.
The N.C. Values Coalition called Cooper’s plan “a rebranding” of the Charlotte law. “A repeal, as outlined by Cooper, is also an invitation to city leaders, who are anxious to pass Charlotte-type ordinances, to force Cooper’s bathroom plan on the entire state,” the group said in a statement.
But HB2 critics also criticized Cooper’s effort.
In a news conference, Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro said nothing short of an immediate repeal of the law would be acceptable. Cooper’s other proposals were “distractions.” He pointed out that Charlotte spent more than a year crafting the ordinance that led to HB2. Local governments have the ability to decide what protections their own residents should have, he said.
“No member of the LBGT community is a risk to public safety in a public restroom or anywhere else, and that conversation is, frankly, a distraction from the real issue,” Sgro said.
Jim Blaine, Berger’s chief of staff, suggested in a tweet that the response of the LGBT groups was “orchestrated” with the governor.
One person who praised Cooper’s proposal was Scott Dupree. As executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, he had written lawmakers about the danger of losing out on NCAA championships.
“I think if the Governor’s proposal from this morning is adopted by the legislature, North Carolina will be back in the game with the NCAA, the ACC, the NBA and others,” Dupree said. “There may be other proposals that could also get us back into the business of hosting major events, but I am confident the governor’s proposal would almost certainly do it.”
It’s unclear where all of this leaves HB2, or efforts to repeal it.
This weekend, the NBA will host its annual All-Star game in New Orleans. The league moved the game from Charlotte because of HB2.
Colin Campbell of the News & Observer contributed.