Agreement to end ‘bathroom bill’ but are there enough votes?

(NBC News Photo)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Republican legislative leaders in North Carolina and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper say they have an agreement to end the state’s “bathroom bill” that they hope will drive away negative national attention and remove obstacles to expanding businesses and attracting sporting events.

But they’ll have to get enough votes in the House and Senate for a proposal set for debate Thursday so the replacement measure for the March 2016 law known as House Bill 2 can reach Cooper’s desk.

Social conservatives in the General Assembly would prefer to have HB2 stay on the books. Gay rights groups oppose the replacement measure because it would still restrict LGBT protections from discrimination. Political repercussions exist for legislators and Cooper.

Just hours after the announcement, about a dozen protesters gathered outside the Executive Mansion in Raleigh early Thursday, calling on Democratic lawmakers to vote no. Cooper was hosting Democrats, urging them to support the plan.

Cooper, who was elected governor last November with support from LGBT forces and on a platform that included a complete repeal of HB2, said in a release that he supported the compromise unveiled Wednesday shortly before midnight by GOP lawmakers.

“It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation,” Cooper said.

The late-night announcement came as the NCAA had said North Carolina sites won’t be considered for championship events from 2018 to 2022 “absent any change” in House Bill 2, which it views as discrimination. The NCAA said decisions would be made starting this week on events. North Carolina cities, schools and other groups have offered more than 130 bids for such events.

The NCAA already removed championship events from the state this year because of the law, which limits LGBT nondiscrimination protections and requires transgender people to use restrooms in schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate.

HB2 has prompted some businesses to halt expansions and entertainers and sports organizations to cancel or move events, including the NBA All-Star game in Charlotte. An Associated Press analysis this week found that HB2 already will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years.

The new proposal would repeal HB2 but would leave state legislators in charge of policy on public multi-stall restrooms. Local governments also couldn’t pass ordinances extending nondiscrimination protections in private employment and in places such as hotels and restaurants covering categories like sexual orientation and gender identity until December 2020. That temporary moratorium, according to GOP House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, would allow time for pending federal litigation over transgender issues to play out.

“Compromise requires give and take from all sides, and we are pleased this proposal fully protects bathroom safety and privacy,” Berger and Moore said in a statement. It’s not clear whether the NCAA would be satisfied by the changes.

Responding before Wednesday night’s announcement to anticipated provisions in the legislation, top national and state gay rights activists blasted the proposal and said those who back Thursday’s measure aren’t allies of the LGBT community. Only a complete repeal, with nothing else, will do, they say.

“At its core, it’s a statewide prohibition on equality,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin told reporters, adding that consequences could fall on Cooper, whom gay rights activists backed in the election, for backing a “dirty deal.”

“It would be a failure of leadership for Cooper” and for Democratic legislative leaders to back this agreement “instead of standing up for civil rights,” Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro said.

The Republican-controlled legislature passed HB2 in response to a Charlotte ordinance that allowed transgender people to use restroom aligned with their gender identity. Cooper narrowly defeated GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the law. HB2 supporters say ordinances like the one in Charlotte make it easy for sexual predators to enter public restrooms designated for the opposite sex.

Several potential compromises have failed over the past year, including one during a special session in December that collapsed amid partisan finger-pointing. GOP and Democratic legislators have been in a seemingly endless chase during the past several weeks to cobble together enough votes on various drafts of legislation.

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