N.C. House Democratic leader Rep. Darren Jackson said that a Republican proposal to replace HB2 “stinks.” (Chris Seward/The News & Observer via AP)

Discussions among North Carolina lawmakers about possibly repealing HB2, the “bathroom bill” passed last year that limits protections for the LGBT community, gained new urgency Tuesday, when a sports event recruiter in that state said he’d learned of an NCAA deadline. If the bill was not repealed or heavily modified within 48 hours, college sports’ governing body would exclude the state from bids on hosting any NCAA events through the spring of 2022.

At a hastily convened news conference Tuesday evening, Republican legislators said they had agreed to a repeal proposal made by Gov. Roy Cooper last week. However, they added that the governor “denies that he ever made the proposal,” and a spokesman for Cooper subsequently decried the Republicans’ claims as a “political stunt.”

In addition, it is not clear that the proposal, as detailed by Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, would be acceptable to any state Democrats or the NCAA. What is more clear is that the state has lost a considerable amount of revenue in the wake of enacting HB2 just over a year ago, and it could be on the verge of getting shut out of hosting college championship events for years to come.

The Associated Press recently published a study estimating that HB2, which has led to several business and entertainment firms, as well as the NCAA and NBA, limiting their involvement with North Carolina, will cost the state $3.76 billion over a dozen years. “That means fewer jobs and less money in the pockets of middle class families,” Cooper told the AP. “We need to fix this now.”

Last week, at the first anniversary of HB2, the NCAA issued a statement in which it said, “Absent any change in the law, our position remains the same regarding hosting current or future events in the state. As the state knows, next week our various sports committees will begin making championship site selections for 2018-2022 based upon bids received from across the country. Once the sites are selected by the committee, those decisions are final and an announcement of all sites will be made on April 18.”

On Tuesday, the event recruiter, Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance Executive Director Scott Dupree, said that the “NCAA has already delayed the bid review process once and has waited as long as it possibly can.” In a joint statement with another GRSA official he said, “We will not endorse any one bill; we simply seek a swift compromise that will allow us to begin to repair the reputation of our region and state and get back to selling and marketing Raleigh as the thriving Southern capital city that it is, one shaped by the passionate minds of its inclusive and welcoming residents.”

Berger and Moore said that they were prepared to move forward on a four-point proposal that contained these aspects:

  • 1. Repeals HB2;
  • 2. Guarantees privacy in bathrooms and shower facilities by leaving regulation of multi-occupancy facilities to the state, returning to the status quo prior to passage of Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance that women and girls should not have to share bathrooms with men;
  • 3. Authorizes local governments to pass employment and accommodation nondiscrimination ordinances, provided they are consistent with federal employment and accommodation nondiscrimination law; and
  • 4. Protects the rights of conscience by allowing citizens to collect court costs and attorney fees if they successfully pursue legal action proving a violation of their constitutional rights, as protected by Article I Section 13 of the North Carolina Constitution and the First Amendment.

“I was taken aback that the governor disavowed ever having made the proposal,” Berger said (via ABC11).

“It’s frustrating that Republican leaders are more interested in political stunts than negotiating a compromise to repeal HB2,” Cooper’s spokesman, Ford Porter, said in a statement. “While Governor Cooper continues to work for a compromise, there are still issues to be worked out, and Republican leaders’ insistence on including an Indiana-style RFRA provision remains a dealbreaker. Any compromise must work to end discrimination, repair our reputation, and bring back jobs and sports, and a RFRA is proven to do just the opposite.”

“Phil Berger and Tim Moore are fighting fire with gasoline. This proposal masquerading as a solution is really an extreme license to discriminate — the last thing that North Carolina needs,” Cathryn Oakley, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior legislative counsel, said in a statement. “They are literally proposing to pile a ‘super RFRA’ on top of some of the most egregious parts of HB2. It’s outrageous, poorly conceived, and a divisive distraction from the matter at hand — that Republican leadership is refusing to allow the full and unequivocal repeal of HB2.”

“I think it stinks,” N.C. House Democratic leader Darren Jackson said of the Republicans’ proposal. “They want to pass a bill, make the governor veto it, and lay the blame at his feet.”

Noting that “while federal law bests state law in many areas and will probably (hopefully) be interpreted at some point down the road to bar discrimination against people because of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, it doesn’t do so yet,” NC Policy Watch said in an article Tuesday that the “objective” of Berger and Moore “is to produce a bill that sounds moderate and reasonable but that will, in fact, do nothing to really change the current situation. Their hope is that they can advance the bill and force Cooper into the awkward position of having to oppose (and maybe even veto) it, all while locking North Carolina in as a state in which LGBTQ equality remains beyond reach.”

Dupree told the Raleigh News & Observer that North Carolina venues have submitted 133 bids for NCAA championship events between 2018 and 2022, with a potential economic impact of at least $250 million. In his statement, he said, “If HB2 has not been resolved by, the NCAA will have no choice but to move forward without the North Carolina bids.”