Racing the clock and facing the loss of major sporting events, Republican lawmakers appear to be moving closer to making changes in House Bill 2 after lobbying by some of the state’s highest-profile sports figures.
There has been a flurry of discussion about HB2 since draft revisions were leaked Tuesday. GOP lawmakers discussed the law Wednesday in a closed-door meeting with Gov. Pat McCrory, who has called for changes to the bill he signed in March.
But no changes are likely to satisfy gay rights advocates, who said they want nothing less than full repeal.
“The only way to make this storm cloud go away is with full repeal of HB2,” Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, told reporters.
Any new legislation would have to be voted on soon. Lawmakers could adjourn for the year as early as this week. And they could adjourn with no action at all.
HB2 was the legislative response to a Charlotte ordinance that would have extended anti-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom or locker room of the gender with which they identify.
The measure has led to lost economic development, celebrity boycotts and the threat of lost sports activities, including the 2017 NBA All-Star weekend planned for Charlotte, an event that could bring up to $100 million to the local economy.
In recent weeks, legislative leaders have met not only with business leaders but also with prominent sports figures. Charlotte Hornets President Fred Whitfield, Panthers President Danny Morrison and Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford met together with legislative leaders.
There’s a sense that a decision by the NBA to move its All-Star Game could persuade other sporting events to follow suit.
“The NBA is the domino everybody is waiting to fall,” said one Republican, who declined to be named because lawmakers are not supposed to talk about what happens in caucus.
Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican, said Whitfield asked him and Democrat Harvey Gantt, another former Charlotte mayor, to sign a letter this week to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
“The essence was that we’re strong supporters of Charlotte,” Vinroot said, “and we understand there are some negotiations toward a resolution. We hope Charlotte will retain the All-Star Game in light of all that.”
Silver said earlier this month that no deadline has been set on whether the league will move the All-Star Game if HB2 is not changed. Silver said then that he has been in North Carolina to encourage a compromise.
Silver said the league would “very much like to play” the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte and also wants to make sure the LGBT community in North Carolina is protected.
Republicans are split on how much and even whether to change HB2. In a post on the conservative Daily Haymaker, Rep. Larry Pittman of Cabarrus County said, “I will not vote to weaken HB 2. As I said today, when you have done the right thing, stand by it.”
Even Democrats appear to be split on whether to support a compromise.
Democratic Sens. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte and Terry Van Duyn of Buncombe County stood with gay rights advocates at a morning news conference to call for full repeal.
But Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte said he would support a compromise.
“I would be willing to support my community and the business community in doing what is right and correcting HB2,” he said. “While it doesn’t completely repeal HB2, it’s a major step in the right direction.”
McCrory has pushed for changes in the bill he signed into law in March. He would restore the ability to sue over discrimination in state courts, a right erased under the law.
The draft circulated Tuesday would use federal anti-discrimination standards in determining discrimination, not the standards in HB2. That could extend protections to sexual orientation, according to a lawyer familiar with the legislation.
The draft would not change a key part of HB2 – the prohibition on transgender persons using the bathroom or locker room of their gender identity in public facilities.
Critics said the proposed changes would do little to protect the LGBT community. Cathryn Oakley, a lawyer with the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, said Wednesday that the draft would “double down” on the bathroom issue.
Asked whether gay rights supporters would be satisfied with anything short of full repeal, Equality NC spokesman Matt Hirschy said, “No.” Candis Cox-Daniels, a transgender woman from Raleigh, also called for repeal.
Opponents delivered stacks of postcards to seven lawmakers signed by their constituents. Among them: Republican Reps. Bill Brawley, Rob Bryan and Charles Jeter of Mecklenburg County.
“Nothing short of full repeal of the bill’s anti-LGBT provisions accomplishes the goal of creating a kinder, wiser, better state,” the N.C. Justice Center said in a statement. “Sadly, this new legislation fixes none of these things.”