By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
March 3, 2017
RALEIGH – The quest to find common ground in the battle over HB2 was the topic of a Tuesday press conference led by Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), one of four primary sponsors of repeal bill HB 186. Introduced last week, the bipartisan legislation has sparked ire on both sides of the aisle and won’t come out of the House Rules Committee, McGrady says, until and unless he has the votes needed to pass the measure.
Though none wholeheartedly endorsed the bill in its present form, a half dozen business leaders spoke out at the press conference about the economic damage they say HB2 has caused and thanked bill sponsors for at least bringing a compromise proposal to the table.
Many were from Charlotte, where the controversy over who should use which bathroom started more than a year ago when the City Council passed an ordinance allowing people with gender issues to use whichever bathroom they wanted. The state responded with HB2, which preserves bathroom privacy — gender-specific restrooms based on the biological sex listed on a person’s birth certificate — and keeps municipalities from offering special legal protections based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
As a result, some sports events and concerts were cancelled and lawsuits have been filed, putting pressure on lawmakers to repeal the bathroom privacy law. Efforts to do so during a special session last December fell through, leaving the matter to the current legislative session, during which McGrady says HB2 is “sucking the wind out of every other issue we’ve got out there.”
“Everybody is calling for a repeal of HB2. This bill does that,” McGrady told the media.
“When we tried to repeal the bill a bit earlier, it became apparent that a lot of groups would be out there trying to enact Charlotte-style ordinances with the bathroom provisions we repealed,” he said. “So this bill has a pre-emption provision that is fairly narrow, but that is so that once we get out of the bathroom business, we stay out of the bathroom business.”
HB 186 would increase the penalty for crimes committed in bathrooms and would allow cities to regulate bathrooms and showers they own or control. It would permit cities to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to their nondiscrimination laws but also allow opponents to call for a referendum to stop the passage of such ordinances.
“The referendum piece is one that gets me Republican votes and loses me Democratic votes,” McGrady explained. “If I didn’t believe I could get around that issue and accommodate various people’s interest I wouldn’t have put forward the bill.”
While reporters peppered McGrady with questions about how much he was willing to negotiate on the point of referenda, business leaders focused on the need to hammer out a deal to repeal, sooner rather than later.
“For us in Charlotte Mecklenburg, from an economic development perspective, we can count 2,500 jobs that have been lost to other states as a result specifically of HB2,” said Bob Morgan with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. “We call on all of the leaders of state government to be a part of an urgent effort to find a solution. And while we as a chamber have not endorsed the specific details of HB 186 and the specific provisions contained there, we are encouraged that it has kickstarted a dialogue that is necessary and urgent.”
He suggested that state leaders take a cue from the Rolling Stones’ manager, who, legend has it, shut Mick Jagger and Keith Richards up in a kitchen together and refused to let them out until they had written a song together.
“Folks, we need our state leaders to get in a room, figure out what the solution is that can garner the majority of votes of both houses of the Legislature and help move North Carolina forward,” Morgan said.
The Charlotte Sports Foundation’s Will Webb said he had seen $140 million that could have come to North Carolina go elsewhere in the last three months as sports organizations refused to book games here.
“I can assure you that not only the NCAA, ACC and NBA are looking at what we do, but every professional sports association, many of the amateur sports associations and even youth groups are looking at what happens with this legislative session,” Webb said.
Similarly Mike Martino with the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association and Mohammad Jenation with the Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Association, said HB is hurting employees.
“There are more than 100,000 people in the Charlotte area whose livelihood depends upon travel and tourism,” Jenation said. “Obviously, our industry more than any other business has been suffering”
He said college students and young people are the most affected by the industry slowdown.
David Green with the N.C. Commercial Real Estate Development Association and Mark Zimmerman with the N.C. Realtor Legislative Committee echoed the pleas for a quick compromise.
“The economic and reputational damage that North Carolina has suffered over the past year from lost jobs, missed opportunities for corporate relocations and foregone tax revenue is significant and very real,” Green said. “We’re encouraged by the bipartisan proposal put forward last week and call upon legislators from both parties to continue negotiations until repeal is achieved. Our state simply cannot allow this opportunity to slip away.”
Amid the clamor over economic loss, the Christian Action League has urged lawmakers to stay the course and keep HB2 intact.
“Only those whose priorities are seriously misguided would believe collegiate sports and any fortune that might come from them are as important as our citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy, dignity, safety, and full religious liberty,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, CAL executive director. “There is no amount of money or wealth that can equal these rights. Any compromise of these is essentially the loss of them.”