Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown said Wednesday that the Senate Republican caucus will consider holding a ballot referendum on House Bill 2.
The idea of letting the state’s voters decide the fate of the controversial LGBT law was floated Tuesday by Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca in an interview with an Asheville TV station.
Apodaca is the top lieutenant to Senate leader Phil Berger, and he told WLOS News 13 that staff attorneys were looking into a constitutional referendum that would make HB2 permanent – or kill it.
“If it was up to me, I’d just put it out to a vote of the people – let them decide what they want to do,” Apodaca said. “Let’s put it on the ballot and get it over with once and for all. If the majority wants this, fine. If they don’t, fine.”
Brown said the idea will be brought before all Senate Republicans “in the next few weeks.”
“You need to get input from the people, because I think a lot of them probably feel they don’t have their words being heard, and this is a way for people to respond to that,” Brown said.
Brown said it’s too soon to know when a referendum might take place. He also said no decision has been made on whether the referendum would be on transgender bathroom use – the best-known provision of HB2 – or on the entire law, which also deals with workplace discrimination lawsuits and bars local minimum wage ordinances.
“Sen. Apodaca has just thought of this idea, and it has not been discussed yet in caucus,” Brown said.
On the House side of the Legislative Building, Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary said he hadn’t heard any talk of a referendum outside of Apodaca’s comments. He didn’t comment further on the idea.
But Rep. Duane Hall, a Raleigh Democrat who wants to repeal House Bill 2, said legislative leaders should take responsibility for their law. He wants them to schedule a vote on the repeal bill that he and other Democrats co-sponsored this week.
“This state doesn’t usually do referendums,” Hall said. “I think (Apodaca) should be responsible and vote.”
LaWana Mayfield, a Charlotte City Council member who voted for expanding the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, said the General Assembly should repeal HB2 instead of letting voters decide. “They need to repeal it, they are the ones who messed up,” she said.
The last referendum on a social issue was in 2012 when voters approved Amendment 1, which placed a ban on same-sex marriage into the state’s constitution. The amendment was struck down by a federal court in 2014, making same-sex marriages legal in the state.
If a referendum on House Bill 2 is placed on November’s ballot, the move could improve turnout among conservative voters who support the law. Republicans across the country have voiced concerns that if Donald Trump gets the party’s presidential nomination, some GOP voters might not participate in this year’s election.
Polling has shown that voters’ views of House Bill 2 are largely split down the middle – and which side wins often depends on how pollsters describe the law and phrase the question.
The left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling said Monday it found 45 percent of voters surveyed oppose the new law and 36 percent support it. Asked whether it was having a negative impact on the state’s economy, 54 percent said it was, and 11 percent said it was having a positive effect.
In early April, a Time Warner Cable News poll found support for HB2 at 51-40 percent, less than two weeks after the bill was enacted into law by the governor.
Charlotte Observer reporter Steve Harrison contributed to this report