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AP Exclusive: North Carolina’s costs for ‘bathroom bill’ calculated in billions

A sign posted outside a restroom at 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, N.C., May 2016. The AP determined that North Carolina's law limiting LGBT protections would cost the state more than $3 billion in lost business over a dozen years, despite Republican assurances that the "bathroom bill" would not hurt the economy. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

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It began as an anniversary story, but one that would break news. With North Carolina’s hotly-contested “bathroom bill,” HB2, in place for nearly a year, AP’s Raleigh bureau was asked by the South Desk to assess the economic impact of the law limiting protections for the LGBT community.

Reporters Jonathan Drew and Emery Dalesio created a spreadsheet tallying the results of their digging, including searches of public records, among them previously unseen state calculations of lost business; they interviewed corporate leaders and state and local officials. And they were able to put a hard minimum figure on huge losses to the state economy even as legislators were negotiating a revision of HB2. “The deal was struck,” The New York Times noted, “days after The Associated Press reported that the backlash against the law would cost North Carolina at least $3.7 billion in business over 12 years.”

The timely exclusive by Drew and Dalesio is the Beat of the Week.

After gathering readily available data, the turning point came when Drew and Dalesio used public-records requests to get more.

How did AP arrive at such a specific number for the bill’s cost? After gathering readily available data, the reporters used public-records requests to get more. A turning point came when the requests brought them the state’s official analyses of the impact of PayPal and Deutsche Bank projects that the companies decided not to locate there because of the law.

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“That’s when we knew we were onto something new and newsworthy,” Drew said.

They calculated the value of lost jobs and salaries; they added up dozens of canceled concerts, conventions and sporting events. Losses were counted only if public records or interviews with corporate or public officials confirmed that HB2 was the reason. Anecdotal reports that lacked firm numbers were left out of the tally, which was detailed in a link published with the story. “AP’s tally is likely an underestimation of the law’s true costs,” the story said.

In an editorial about the law, the News & Observer in Raleigh said the AP showed “how bad it has been for business…. What a tragic irony that leaders who have touted their ability to create jobs and run the economy have done so much damage to it.”

The story was used by state,national and international clients,was the top story on AP’s mobile site and topped overall engagement on APNews.com. It appeared on numerous front pages around the U.S., including Dallas; Texas is considering its own bathroom bill.

North Carolina’s governor cited AP’s story as evidence of the need to repeal the law.

In North Carolina,the governor cited AP’s story as evidence of the need to repeal the law. “We now know that,based on conservative estimates,North Carolina’s economy stands to lose nearly $4 billion because of House Bill 2. … We need to fix this now.”

For the hard work that produced hard numbers on an issue of intense public interest, Drew and Dalesio win this week’s $500 prize.

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