LUMBERTON — State Rep. Ken Goodman knows it’s a political risk for him to be a primary sponsor of bipartisan legislation aimed at breaking an impasse over the state’s “bathroom bill.”
But for Goodman, whose District 66 includes part of Robeson County, the benefits of repealing House Bill 2 far outweigh any potential damage to his political career.
“Sure this is a political risk,” Goodman said of his being one of two Democrats and two Republicans who are the primary sponsors of the legislation, which was filed Wednesday and appears to be gaining support. “But sometimes you have to stick your neck out.”
Goodman was joined in sponsoring the bill by Republican state Reps. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville and Ted Davis Jr. of Wilmington, and state Rep. Marvin W. Lucas, a Democrat from Spring Lake.
House Bill 2, which was quickly made into law in March 2016, requires people to use restrooms in schools and public buildings based on the gender identified on their birth certificates. It was a response to the Charlotte City Council in February 2016 adopting an ordinance allowing transgender people to use the rest room of their choice.
Opponents of HB2 point to the loss of businesses and major sporting events in the state after passage of the bill. The NBA moved its All Star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference withdrew championship games from the state.
An attempt to repeal the law in December failed when an agreement between Gov.-elect Roy Cooper and Republican leaders fell apart.
Goodman said that it’s going to be an uphill battle to get the bill out of committee and onto the House floor. It will be just as difficult in the Senate, he said, because it is also controlled by the GOP.
But it is picking up support. By late Thursday, 19 lawmakers — five Democrats and 14 Republicans — had co-sponsored the measure.
“Both the far right and the far left hate the bill,” Goodman said. “The governor isn’t on board yet, and both Democrats and Republicans supporting the repeal are trying to get members of their party to support the bill.
“My hope is that we can put together something not everyone will love, but something we can all live with. If we can do that, the state will be better off.”
Goodman said the bill is the first bipartisan effort to repeal HB2.
“We want to negotiate and this bill puts us in a place to start,” he said. “It’s time that something has to be done. HB2 is hurting the state economically. People are losing jobs. We are losing industry. We are losing the NCAA and the NBA All-Star game … . It’s time we put all of this in our rear view mirror and move forward.”
Goodman said letters of endorsement for the bill have been issued by the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, N.C. Realtors Association, and the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association.
“These are important business organizations in the state,” he said.
The bill would include, in addition to other provisions, allowing lawmakers to still control policy decisions over the use of multi-stall bathrooms in public buildings; allow cities to expand other anti-discrimination protections; and increase penalties for certain crimes that occur in public restrooms or locker rooms.
Goodman said he regrets his vote in favor of HB2.
“I think that with all of the ramifications of this bill, it was not one of my best votes,” Goodman said. “In retrospect, we (state) and Charlotte would be better off if Charlotte had been left alone.”
Reps. Charles Graham and Garland Pierce, both Democrats who represent Robeson County, said Thursday they have not read the proposed bill and are not ready to comment. Graham and Pierce voted in favor of HB2 last March.
“This is difficult legislation. It’s a minefield,” said Pierce. “We’ve got in a situation and have to find our way out. I don’t think this will be a quick fix.”
Graham restated the position he has held on HB2 since the bill was first introduced.
“My No. 1 concern has always been the safety of little girls and women in restrooms and locker rooms,” he said. “… I haven’t read or discussed this bill with our caucus. It’s going to take 61 votes and I’m not sure that many legislators will support this new bill.”
Robeson County’s other two legislators, Rep. Brenden Jones and Sen. Danny Britt, could not be reached for comment.
Gay-rights groups and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper criticized the proposal after it was filed late Wednesday, and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union offered a similar critique in opposition Thursday. They have all pushed for a simple repeal.
The socially conservative North Carolina Values Coalition also panned the measure Thursday but wants HB2 to stay in place.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told reporters Thursday he generally doesn’t comment on House bills until they reach his chamber, but “I’m actually pleased that there are folks trying to find compromises.” Berger has repeatedly blamed Cooper for scuttling a repeal agreement in December, but the new governor said Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore failed to keep their side of the bargain.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.