The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. File photo by Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

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RALEIGH — Legislators from both parties, Gov. Roy Cooper and local officials are taking hard look at an HB2 compromise introduced Wednesday by Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson.

In a late afternoon press conference, McGrady said he has spent months trying to write legislation could both satisfy HB2 opponents and survive votes in both the House and Senate.

McGrady, who has one Republican and two Democratic co-sponsors, called the legislation, House Bill 186, “a bipartisan path forward to deal with an issue that is very complex and needs to be resolved.”

After the acrimonious ending of a repeal effort at the end of last year, the legislature and the governor have struggled to come to terms while the pressure mounts over a looming deadline in early March for rights to bid for NCAA championship games. The organization said it would strike the state from the list of potential sites if the current law is not repealed or significantly altered.

“We as North Carolinians have to figure out how to move forward,” McGrady said. “We’ve got to forget about special interest groups on the right and left and do what’s right for North Carolina.”

McGrady said the bill represents about 10 months of work on finding a solution that he believes will resolve the concerns of the NCAA, NBA and others. It hits the “sweet spot,” he said, of both solving the problem and getting the votes.

McGrady said although time is tight to make a decision on HB2, the bill would not be passed in a similar fashion to the one it repeals and would move through the committee process and be subject to amendments.

The main section of the bill would fully repeal HB2 and create a statewide nondiscrimination law. Although the new law would not include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, among the list of protected classes, it would allow cities to expand the list. The law allows for residents of a city to challenge any expansion and sets a relatively low threshold — 10 percent of those who voted in the last election — for a petition to trigger a referendum to rescind the expansion.

City ordinances would apply only to public bathrooms and not to the private sector. Under a related provision, universities and community colleges would be allowed to set their own bathroom policies.

The bill would also increase penalties for bathroom peeping and sexual assault in bathrooms and locker rooms.

While he is confident the bill could pass the House, McGrady said he is less certain about what will happen in the Senate, noting that the retirement of Henderson County Sen. Tom Apodaca, a top member of Senate leader Phil Berger’s team, had made that more difficult.

The bill is scheduled to be introduced today.

Although McGrady has drawn some Democratic support for the proposal, the immediate reaction from Cooper and HB2 opponents was negative.

“We must repeal House Bill 2 and I remain committed to getting that done. But I am concerned that this legislation as written fails the basic test of restoring our reputation, removing discrimination, and bringing jobs and sports back to North Carolina,” Cooper said in a statement released shortly after McGrady’s press conference. “I will keep working with the legislature.”

Both the state ACLU and EqualityNC said the bill allows discrimination in North Carolina.

“Rather than repeal H.B. 2 entirely, this proposal still sanctions discrimination against transgender people and makes it harder for local governments to protect LGBT people under the law,” said Sarah Gillooly, Policy Director for the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement on the group’s web site.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said Thursday morning that she and other mayors and city attorneys are closely reviewing the new proposal.

“I’m trying to look at these summaries and better understand the bill before I can come down one way or the other,” she said.

The announcement that the bill would be amendable was an important step, she said. “My sense is that the negotiations on this change every hour.”

Manheimer she has kept in close touch with McGrady through the past week as the bill was finalized.

“I know he is really working hard and is hopeful that that they’re going to get across the finish line,” she said. “They have a lot of time pressures and I think there’s a pretty strong sense of ‘it’s now or never.’”

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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