Top North Carolina GOP official fights to save bathroom bill

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, left, and Gov. Pat McCrory applaud the unanimous votes to sell 308 acres to the City of Raleigh in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP, File.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The top Republican in North Carolina's executive branch is throwing a blunt counterpunch to the Democratic governor's call to repeal the state's "bathroom bill," despite current and future economic losses stemming from the legislation that's stirred up fierce debates about gender.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest went to Texas earlier this month to help that state pass its own "bathroom bill," and now he's back home fighting efforts to repeal HB2, the law that limits LGBT nondiscrimination protections and requires transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate.

Forrest, a likely GOP candidate for governor in 2020, wrote an open letter to legislators this week critiquing recent proposals to get rid of the law or significantly rewrite it to satisfy outside groups.

The law has prompted some businesses to halt expansions and some 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 will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years.

Forest, a social conservative who won re-election in November, argues that without the law in place local governments could pass rules making it easy for male sexual predators to enter public restrooms designated for the opposite sex.

"On the bathroom issue, it will never be good public policy to allow men into women's and little (girls') bathrooms and showers," Forest wrote to legislators Monday. "HB2 guarantees that will not happen now."

He urged lawmakers not to succumb to a "new form of economic and corporate extortion" that others could use in the future on different legislative issues.

The NCAA moved championship events out of North Carolina this academic year because of its opposition to the law enacted in March 2016. The group has said it will begin this week choosing sites for its championship events from 2018 to 2022, and will announce them in a few weeks. North Carolina cities, schools and other groups have offered more than 130 such bids.

"Absent any change in the law, our position remains the same regarding hosting current or future events in the state," the NCAA said in a statement last week. The NCAA sent the same statement to the AP on Tuesday.

Forest's stand on HB2 contrasts with that of new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, whose campaign focused on repealing the law altogether. Even Republican legislative leaders who defended passing the law in response to a Charlotte ordinance that allowed transgender people to use restroom aligned with their gender identity, are now looking at replacing it.

GOP leaders have been negotiating a possible repeal with Cooper and other Republicans since December without success. It's unclear if draft legislation considered by Republicans late last week would satisfy the NCAA. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, have said the GOP is committed to maintaining the state's right to regulate who can use public restrooms and shower facilities.

"We've seen some progress and things have moved along but nothing to report just yet," Moore told reporters Tuesday. "It's all about finding something that most members can embrace."

But Forest takes a hard-line tack aligned with Christian conservatives who believe HB2 should remain the law. He said left-leaning groups are seeking "unreasonable assimilation with their radical redefinition of the term 'sex' and the policy implications that come with that change."

Forest also blasted the AP's report projecting future financial losses as "another attempt to mislead and confuse the public through a bogus headline" and he questioned the tally.

As lieutenant governor, Forest has few inherent powers and is elected separately from the governor. He presides over Senate debate but can't file bills and only votes when there's a tie. But with former Gov. Pat McCrory's defeat, Forest is now the highest-ranked Republican in the executive branch and is using the bully pulpit of his office. The Raleigh architect is son of Republican former U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2012 in his first run for office.

Travelling to Texas two weeks ago, Forest spoke at a news conference and a Senate committee meeting to support legislation championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that also would require transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate. There Forest again downplayed the law's economic effect upon North Carolina.

Copyright 2017 The Gayly - 3/28/2017 @ 5:12 p.m. CDT