Sen. Terry Van Duyn addresses a press conference on proposed legislation to repeal House Bill 2 on Feb. 28, 2017, in Raleigh.

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RALEIGH — A way out of the stalemate over legislation to repeal HB2 remains elusive and rhetoric remains heated from all sides of the multi-faceted negotiation over how to get enough votes to pass a bill that satisfied concerns over the controversial law passed last year.

On Tuesday, flanked by co-sponsors and representatives of the state’s hospitality and tourism organizations, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said House Bill 186, legislation he introduced last week, would not move from the House Rules and Operations Committee until there were enough votes to pass the bill.

“I think the bill represents a good compromise, but at this point the bill isn’t going to move forward unless I get the Democratic votes,” McGrady said, calling on Gov. Roy Cooper to urge Democrats to support the bill.

LGBT rights groups and most Democrats continue to push for a full repeal, but McGrady said a simple repeal can’t get enough votes to pass. The new bill combines a repeal of HB2 with provisions designed to draw in reluctant members of both parties.

The legislation replaces HB2 with a statewide non-discrimination law that does not include LGBT protections, but allows local governments to expand protections to include categories like sexual orientation and gender identification.

It also includes a preemption provision banning local laws on multi-stall bathrooms and changing rooms, tightening sexual assault and peeping laws, and the current major sticking point in negotiations, a referendum provision that could put changes in protections passed by local governments to a vote.

Cooper and House Democrats have called the referendum provision a deal breaker.

At a Wednesday briefing on his first biennial budget proposal, Cooper again blasted the referendum proposal, which would be triggered by a petition signed by 10 percent of the voters in the prior election. In Asheville, that would mean roughly 1,200 signatures would be required should the city pass an ordinance.

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Cooper said the low threshold means campaign fights in every community that extends protections to the LGBT community.

“In every single community in North Carolina that passes an ordinance you’re going to have hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions of dollars spent on nasty ads and the national spotlight is going to be on North Carolina,”

The governor called on Moore to remove the provision.

“We’ve got to get this referendum provision out of House Bill 186 and you’ve got a deal,” Cooper said.

In a news conference just prior to McGrady’s on Tuesday, Buncombe County Democratic Sen. Terry Van Duyn said the rights of minorities shouldn’t be on the ballot and the provision would lead to local culture wars similar to those that experienced at the capital.

Rep. Chuck McGrady conducts a press conference to discuss the possible repeal of House Bill 2 on Feb. 28, 2017, in Raleigh. Kirk Ross / Carolina Public Press

“North Carolina wants to move beyond HB2 and the referendum provision means well be waging culture wars in our community indefinitely,” Van Duyn said.

The governor and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, are both on record as that they would support H186 if the referendum section is removed.

Jackson said Tuesday that McGrady has said both publicly and privately that the bill could be modified, but accused  House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, of refusing to drop the referendum. McGrady’s bill would need 30 to 40 Democratic votes to pass, Jackson said.

“We could have a deal today,” Jackson said, “but the Speaker refuses to participate.”

Moore, who along with Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, has repeatedly accused Cooper of sabotaging previous repeal attempts, said the governor is undermining the current bill.

“Gov. Cooper should stop playing political games, stop trying to please special-interest groups and stop attempting to sabotage legislative efforts to find consensus on both sides of the aisle and among the business community,” Moore said in the statement released Monday.

“This effort takes careful compromise, and House Bill 186 is a real solution that actually addresses conflicts with House Bill 2, finds common ground across stakeholder communities and fully protects the privacy and safety of North Carolinians.”

McGrady said he thinks the referendum provision could be modified, but said Cooper has refused to negotiate.

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“I’ve said all along, this isn’t a take it or leave it sort of thing,” McGrady said. “The pieces of the puzzle fit together in various way and if there are those sorts of concerns there are ways to address them by changing a few numbers in the bill, but you can’t negotiate with yourself.

Meanwhile, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer has restated her opposition to the current version of the bill. Manheimer was included in a list provided by House Bill 186 supporters of those who have offered “support and encouragement for continued bipartisan efforts,” but had not agreed to support the bill as written.

Manheimer, who told Carolina Public Press last week that she had concerns about the referendum position, said this week that she could not support the bill in its current form. She encouraged Cooper and members of the General Assembly to continued working on a better solution to repeal HB2.

Editor’s Note: This article has been revised to clarify statements about Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer’s position on the proposed legislation.

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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