RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The window is small and the legislative strategy tricky, but GOP leaders say there’s still a chance to change the North Carolina law that sparked a clash over transgender rights on the national stage.
The state law, known as House Bill 2 and passed March 23, limited anti-discrimination rules that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In the portion of the bill that got the most attention nationwide, transgender men and women were directed to use public restrooms corresponding with the sex on their birth certificates.
The legislation has remained intact since then, despite national protests, the arrests of dozens of demonstrators at North Carolina’s Legislative Building, a federal lawsuit against the state, and strong words from officials, including U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, about the law as “state-sponsored discrimination.”
Hopes that North Carolina’s GOP-led General Assembly would completely erase the law have withered, but some adjustments are possible before lawmakers end their annual session — if Republican leaders can get the changes through without opening the entire bill for debate.
“We’re having discussions with a number of folks, but so far there’s nothing that’s been determined,” House Speaker Tim Moore said. “I think that we may look at some tweaks to the law, it’s certainly nothing that would make the Obama administration probably happy.”
GOP lawmakers have floated the outlines of a proposal, and some are discussing potential changes privately. Changing the bathroom portion of the law is not on the table. The discussion instead centers on the provision that prevents workers from suing for employment discrimination in state court. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed House Bill 2 into law, wants that provision removed.
Any changes would probably show up in legislation negotiated privately by House and Senate Republicans, possibly placed in a “conference committee” report that is presented to both chambers for one up-or-down vote, with no amendments allowed. Or, it could be placed in a previously unrelated bill before the session ends.
That could allow Republicans to avoid debate and votes on Democratic proposals to repeal House Bill 2 altogether. GOP lawmakers in swing districts would prefer not to subject themselves to that kind of vote entering the fall campaign.
No one has promised that even minor alterations will be made. GOP legislators have said they want to adjourn before or just after July 4.