It seems that most people in the General Assembly want to get rid of House Bill 2 despite accusations to the contrary from both sides. Sure, there are some social conservatives who would prefer to stand on principle while the reputation of the state goes down the tube, but most people are ready to move on.
Despite GOP claims, no Democrats wants the law to stick around. They see it as hurting the state and discriminatory against the LGBT community. Roy Cooper ran on getting rid of the bill and knows that there is no political upside for him to have the law in place when he runs for re-election.
The GOP mostly knows that the law cost them the governorship and attorney general’s office. They’ve been blamed and battered for over a year now. The leadership just wants it to go away.
Both sides are protecting key constituencies. The Republicans want to satisfy social conservatives who have long been feeling their world is under attack. They want the bill left intact. The Democrats want to protect the LGBT community who have suffered discrimination for centuries and have only found broad acceptance in the last decade or so. They want the bill fully repealed.
Right now, the compromise seems to be stuck on a referendum for local nondiscrimination ordinances. Democrats, me included, believe that rights should not be put up for a vote. Had Jim Crow laws been left to local referenda they would still be on the books in some areas. Some Democrats also believe the GOP cynically wants to use referenda to drive out their base by putting emotional social issues on the ballot. The GOP says it just wants to make sure its base voters have a means to prevent what they see as government forcing values on them.
So here are few ideas for compromise. First, to allay Democrats’ concerns about using referenda as political tools, agree that ballot measures only take place during odd-numbered years when municipal elections are already on the ballot. That makes sense. Vote on local issues during local elections
Second, require signatures from 25% of the registered voters in an area. Right now, Rep. Chuck McGrady’s bill allows a referendum with only 10% of the voters from the last municipal election. That’s a very low bar. The 25% threshold ensures that a large number of people want the nondiscrimination ordinance repealed. If that many people sign the petition, then there’s probably something wrong with the ordinance besides just protecting LGBT citizens and repealing it clearly has support from a cross section of the voters in the municipality.
Another compromise could be to add sunset clauses to any nondiscrimination ordinances passed by local governments. Require that they be re-approved after every municipal election. That way, municipal elections serve as a kind of proxy referendum for nondiscrimination ordinances. If NDOs are that big a deal, they will dominate the local elections. On the other hand, if they’re not that important to people, they won’t play a big role in local elections.
Finally, I offered a compromise measure in an article back in April. Former Governor Jim Martin proposed a similar framework. I like these options best.
Regardless of the deal, HB2 needs to go. The conversation is at a stalemate. The law has done serious harm to our reputation and caused North Carolina to lose jobs and revenue. The voters are losing patience and will blame both sides if it’s not fixed. It’s time to get it done.