How will North Carolina legislators address 'bathroom bill' controversy?

Legislators who passed the North Carolina law known as the "bathroom bill" nine months ago head back to the capital on Wednesday to consider repealing it. However, there's uncertainty over exactly what Republican lawmakers will do to reconcile public outcry. 

Jonathan Drake/Reuters
North Carolina's Legislative Building, where the state legislature will convene on Wednesday to reconsider the controversial HB2 law limiting bathroom access for transgender people, seen in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. on December 19, 2016.

Legislators who passed the North Carolina law known as the "bathroom bill" nine months ago head back to the capital on Wednesday to consider repealing it. But there's uncertainty over exactly what lawmakers will do, in part because this Republican-controlled legislature has shown a willingness to go its own way, despite intense outside pressure to scrap the law.

Over the past year, there has been bitter fighting between Democrats and Republicans. Just last week, Republican leaders convened a surprise legislative session and passed two laws designed to bring Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper's powers in check when he becomes governor Jan. 1.

Cooper blasted outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory over the law known as House Bill 2 during the governor's race, and the fallout over the law — job losses, canceled concerts and sporting events — contributed to McCrory's narrow defeat. The wide-ranging law is best known for requiring transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate in many public buildings.

The state's Republican leaders say they've been willing for months to consider repealing the state law if Charlotte acted first to undo a local antidiscrimination ordinance. The City Council gutted the ordinance Monday on a contingency basis, paving the way for the special session.

GOP Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville supports repealing the entire law and said he believes a significant number of House members from both parties do as well.

"Everybody is acting in good faith in my opinion," Rep. McGrady said. House Republicans met by phone Monday and would meet in person in Raleigh later Tuesday, he said.

However, lawmakers were already under pressure from some conservative groups to keep HB2 in place.

"We're sending the message to our supporters that lawmakers should not now betray people who supported them and compromise common-sense principles like privacy, dignity and freedom from our citizens," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger have only issued a brief statement Monday, saying they "would take up the repeal of HB2." They also criticized Cooper for taking too much credit.

They did not return messages for comment Tuesday.

Charlotte appears to have held up its end of the bargain, but the measure enacted Monday notes that it's dependent on HB2 being repealed in its entirety by Dec. 31. That could give some lawmakers justification not to repeal it.

Cooper, who helped broker Charlotte's cooperation with phone calls over the weekend, expects a full repeal, his spokeswoman Megan Jacobs said late Monday.

The law also limits statewide protections for LGBT people in public accommodation and employment, and it reinforced a prohibition on local governments from raising minimum wage. Local governments are also prevented from enacting nondiscrimination measures that would go further than state law.

The session is scheduled several days before Christmas, with some legislators out of town.

GOP Rep. Jeff Collins of Rocky Mount, who voted for HB2 in March, told The Wilson Times that he was not interested in repealing anything. "I think we did the right thing the first time," he told the newspaper.

Passing a repeal would only require a handful of GOP support — perhaps 10 in the Senate or 15 in the House — if all Democrats voted for it.

Discussions about repealing the law increased after decisions by the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference to move their championship events out of North Carolina this academic year. The NBA also moved an All-Star Game out of Charlotte.

Democratic Rep. Grier Martin of Raleigh said until there's a full repeal, "I'm pretty certain that we're not going to see another NBA All-Star Game or NCAA tournament game in North Carolina."

LGBT advocates said they were cautiously hopeful.

"We are holding out hope that the legislators will keep their word," said Simone Bell, Southern Regional Director for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal. "We want complete and full repeal of HB 2."

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