The House Bill 2 ‘fix’ actually isn’t one

The Observer editorial board

N.C. Rep. Chris Sgro on Tuesday talks about draft legislation aimed at changing provisions in House Bill 2.
N.C. Rep. Chris Sgro on Tuesday talks about draft legislation aimed at changing provisions in House Bill 2. The Charlotte Observer

The N.C. legislature’s effort that emerged Tuesday to “fix” House Bill 2 includes some worthwhile provisions but does nothing to address some of the law’s biggest flaws.

The new legislation – which was only in draft form on Tuesday afternoon but could be taken up very soon – leaves in place the two most egregious aspects of HB2. Those were stripping cities of their ability to pass their own non-discrimination ordinances, and requiring transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex listed on their birth certificate rather than with their gender identity.

The draft legislation, obtained by Observer news partner WBTV, keeps both of those provisions in place. That’s why gay-rights advocates called it “House Bill 2.0” and a “doubling down” on HB2.

If this legislation passes in its current form, lawmakers will have done less than put a Band-Aid on the problem. They will just have cleaned up the wound a little while leaving it there to continue to infect the state and its national reputation.

Under this bill, cities cannot prevent restaurants and other areas of public accommodation from denying service to people because of their sexual orientation. And state law will still require transgender people who identify as and look like men to use women’s rooms and vice versa. That’s not much of a fix.

The rest of the draft bill is a mishmash of good, bad and indifferent.

It would restore North Carolinians’ ability to file a state claim if they believe they were discriminated against in the workplace for protected reasons such as age, race or religion. It was absurd that HB2 took away that right, and even Gov. Pat McCrory, an otherwise staunch defender of HB2, had lobbied for its reinstatement. Doing so is a good thing, but is the least legislators could do.

The draft bill would toughen penalties for crimes committed in bathrooms or locker rooms. People found guilty of any of eight felonies would be guilty of a felony one level higher than the underlying one and so would face tougher sentences. That’s unnecessary but unobjectionable, and it speaks to the supposed rationale that partially fueled HB2: that it was designed to protect women and children. That was a canard, but at least tougher penalties for crimes in bathrooms more directly addresses that concern.

A new state anti-discrimination task force would be created by the bill. It would study anti-discrimination policies at the federal level and in other states, then make recommendations. Such a task force, if truly impartial, would find that HB2 is a national outlier.

Finally, there may be a tiny number of current North Carolinians who have had sex-reassignment surgery whose birth states won’t update their birth certificate as a matter of policy. Those people could get an N.C. certificate reflecting their new status. This would likely affect so few people as to not be a crucial part of this bill.

Legislators need to improve the draft before voting on it. This so-called “fix” doesn’t make things worse, but it actually fixes very little.