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North Carolina Rebuffs Transgender Bathroom Law Repeal

RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature on Wednesday rejected a bid to repeal a state law restricting bathroom access for transgender people, which has drawn months of protests and boycotts by opponents decrying the measure as discriminatory.

A one-day special legislative session ended abruptly after the state Senate voted against abolishing a law that has made North Carolina the latest U.S. battleground over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

The repeal legislation was rejected 32-16, leaving the bathroom restrictions in place statewide. The rejection followed Republican-led political maneuvering that tried repeal to a second provision that would have temporarily banned cities from affirming transgender bathroom rights.

Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson said the repeal effort was defeated because Republicans reneged on their deal to bring the measure to a floor vote with no strings attached.

“They got here with strings attached so it failed,” Jackson said. The moratorium on municipal bathroom regulations, described by Jackson as a “poison pill,” withered Democratic support, and in the end all 16 Senate Democrats joined 16 Republicans in voting against repeal. Another 16 Republicans voted for it.

The Senate then adjourned without acting on the temporary municipal ban. The state’s House of Representatives already had called it quits.

Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper accused Republican leaders of back-peddling on an agreement ironed out in lengthy negotiations. He said both chambers had the votes for a full repeal, but divisions within the Republican Party killed it.

“The Republican legislative leaders have broken their word to me, and they have broken their trust with the people of North Carolina,” he said.

Senate Republican leader Phil Berger earlier defended the proposal to link repeal with temporary municipal restrictions as a “good-faith” effort to reach a compromise, citing “the passion and disagreement surrounding this issue.”

BACKLASH OVER BATHROOM RESTRICTIONS

Earlier in the week, outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory had called the special session to consider scrapping the law, which passed in March and made North Carolina the first state to bar transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity.

Supporters of the statute, known as House Bill 2 (HB 2), have cited traditional values and a need for public safety, while opponents called it mean-spirited, unnecessary and a violation of civil liberties.

The national backlash was swift and fierce, leading to boycotts that have been blamed for millions of dollars in economic losses for the state as events, such as business conferences and the National Basketball Association’s 2017 All-Star Game, were moved out of North Carolina.

The pushback contributed to McCrory’s razor-thin defeat in a fall re-election bid against Cooper, an opponent of the law. On Monday, Cooper had said he reached a deal with state Republicans to do away with the law.

HB 2 was enacted largely in response to a local measure in Charlotte that protected the rights of transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice.

The Charlotte City Council on Monday repealed its ordinance as a prelude to the state repealing HB 2.

Civil liberties and LGBT rights groups condemned the outcome, accusing the legislature of breaking its promise to do away with HB 2.

“It is a shame that North Carolina’s General Assembly is refusing to clean up the mess they made,” said James Esseks, an American Civil Liberties Union executive.

The North Carolina Values Coalition hailed the legislature for upholding the law and refusing to give in to “demands of greedy businesses, immoral sports organizations or angry mobs.”

(Writing by Letitia Stein, Daniel Trotta and Steve Gorman, additional reporting by David Ingram; editing by Tom Brown, G Crosse and Lisa Shumaker)

IMAGE: Opponents of North Carolina’s HB2 law limiting bathroom access for transgender people protest in the gallery above the state’s House of Representatives chamber as the legislature considers repealing the controversial law in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. on December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

North Carolina Republicans Try To Strip Powers From Democratic Governor-Elect

RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – North Carolina’s Republican-dominated legislature is moving to strip powers from the state’s governor three weeks before Democrat Roy Cooper is set to succeed a member of their party in the executive mansion.

Lawmakers on Thursday began debating a bill to require Senate confirmation for cabinet appointments, reduce by 1,200 the number of state employees the governor could hire and fire at will, and eliminate the governor’s power to pick certain university trustees.

The legislation came as a surprise, filed late on Wednesday on the heels of a special “lame duck” session of the General Assembly called to consider relief for Hurricane Matthew victims.

Cooper, scheduled to be sworn in on Jan. 7 after defeating incumbent Republican Pat McCrory by 10,000 votes last month, said the proposals were aimed at holding him back.

“Most people might think that this is a partisan power grab, but it is really more ominous,” Cooper said at a news conference in Raleigh on Thursday. “This is about thwarting the governor’s ability to move us forward on education and health care and clean air and water.”

Cooper, currently state attorney general, said his office was reviewing the proposals and would sue if lawmakers approved any measures he believed were unconstitutional.

Republicans called the changes justified by the state’s constitution. Senate confirmation hearings were held earlier in the state’s history, they said.

“Some of the stuff we’re doing, obviously if the election results were different, we might not be moving quite as fast on, but a lot of this stuff would have been done anyway,” Representative David Lewis, a Republican and a sponsor of the bill, told the News & Observer on Wednesday.

A House of Representatives committee voted on an unrecorded voice vote to advance the bill on Thursday, as about 100 people gathered at the legislature to demonstrate against the proposals.

North Carolina, the ninth most-populous U.S. state, has been roiled by sharp political divisions. The state voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and then turned to the right, electing McCrory in 2012 and Republican super-majorities in its state legislature.

The state became a target of boycotts by companies, musicians and sports leagues after it passed a law this year restricting bathroom access for transgender people in government buildings and public schools.

(Reporting by Marti Maguire; Writing by David Ingram; Editing by Dan Grebler)

IMAGE: North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper speaks to supporters at a victory rally the day after his Republican opponent and incumbent Pat McCrory conceded in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake