WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The bipartisan bill proposing to repeal HB2 passed its first reading in the state House Monday night and was referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House. The committee does not have a regular meeting schedule and meets when it is called by leadership. Bills can be held in that committee for long periods of time, and never reach the floor of the House for a vote.
Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) one of the primary sponsors of HB186, is also a Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House. He says a referral to the Rules Committee is not necessarily a bad sign.
"In my opinion, it was sent to Rules to be held there, so that further vetting and discussion can take place before a decision to move forward will be made," Rep. Davis said Monday night.
Bipartisan support is the reason Rep. Davis said he signed on as a primary sponsor of the bill, along with one other Republican and two Democrats. Filed Wednesday in the North Carolina House of Representatives, by Thursday, 15 more lawmakers became bill sponsors—three Democrats and twelve Republicans.
Rep. Davis said he's proud of what he calls a true compromise bill.
"The Governor has put out several things he calls a compromise—they aren't a compromise, they aren't a valid proposal because they don't do anything," Rep. Davis said. "This bill has different aspects that really tries to address everything people have concerns about"
The bill seeks to fully repeal HB 2 and update the state's non-discrimination laws to match federal protections. State colleges and universities, along with some other organizations, would have the option to expand their non-discrimination policies beyond those spelled out in the bill.
Local governments would be allowed to adopt their own anti-discrimination ordinances—like Charlotte did last year, in allowing people to use the public restroom that fits their gender identity. It's currently banned under HB 2, but the policies under HB 186 would only apply to public facilities, not private ones.
Opponents of a local policy would be allowed to start a petition to begin the ballot referendum process. If the petition acquires enough support, it would force a vote on the policy.
"It puts it back in the hands of the people who have to deal with these laws and that's a very important component for me," Rep. Davis explained.
Governor Roy Cooper released a video statement Monday morning blasting the proposed bill, saying it would only exacerbate the on-going controversy by starting anti-LGBT referendum campaigns across the state.
"We have more than 500 cities and towns in North Carolina-- imagine the endless campaigning, months of one side demonizing the other about if LGBT citizens have rights, all in the national spotlight," Governor Cooper said. "Our reputation will continue to suffer."
Gov. Cooper said he will support the proposal if the referendum provision is removed and replaced with a different option to replace concerns of Republicans.
Rep. Davis said he doesn't understand Gov. Cooper's stance.
"The only response I have is why is the governor so worried about allowing the people who live in this state to vote on a local issue that would affect them?"
The bill would also enhance sentencing for someone that commits a crime in a public changing facility. If convicted of a felony that was committed in a public changing facility, the person would automatically be guilty of a felony one class higher than the original.
Representative Holly Grange is a Republican co-sponsor of the bill.
"I did that because I really feel this is a starting point," Rep. Grange explained. "We don't want our state to be looked at the way it is, or for HB 2 to suck all the air out of the room and that's what's happening."
Rep. Grange said she blames politics for the hold up in finding a solution, especially from "the left." She claimed Democrats are raising a lot of money on the issue and won't compromise. On the other hand, Rep. Grange said some Republican lawmakers won't compromise because they feel their religious freedom is at stake along with other values they hold close.
"We have a rural-urban divide in this state and that's about where the line is drawn," Grange said.
You can read the full bill here.