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McCrory Signs Bill Stripping Local Government Powers

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North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has signed legislation designed to rein in local governments passing their own anti-discrimination rules.

McCrory's office confirmed he signed the law late Wednesday night, hours after the legislature finalized the bill in a one-day work session.

Lawmakers returned to Raleigh because a Charlotte City Council ordinance was supposed to take effect April 1 that expanded protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for treatment at hotels and restaurants.

Critics focused on the ability of transgender people to use the bathroom or locker rooms aligned with their gender identity. So did McCrory, Charlotte's mayor for 14 years.

The resulting legislation went further. Now cities, towns and counties can't pass anti-discrimination rules beyond a new state standard. And public schools, public college campuses and government agencies must require bathrooms or locker rooms be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex.

The legislation deals a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country.

Although 12 House Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting for the bill in the afternoon, later all Senate Democrats in attendance walked off their chamber floor during the debate in protest. Remaining Senate Republicans gave the legislation unanimous approval.

“We choose not to participate in this farce,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh said after he left the chamber.

Republicans and their allies have said intervening is necessary to protect the safety of women and children from “radical” action by Charlotte. There have been arguments that any man — perhaps a sex offender — could enter a woman’s restroom or locker room simply by calling himself transgender.

“It’s common sense — biological men should not me be in women’s showers, locker rooms and bathrooms,” said GOP Rep. Dean Arp of Monroe before the chamber voted 82-26 for the legislation after nearly three hours of debate.

Gay rights leaders and transgender people said the legislation demonizes the community and espouses bogus claims about increasing the risk of sexual assaults. They say the bill will deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people essential protections needed to ensure they can get a hotel room, hail a taxi or dine at a restaurant without fear.

“Protections for LGBT people against discrimination are common sense,” Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, said in a release after the vote. Advocates had hoped to pressure McCrory into vetoing the bill, beginning with a Thursday evening rally.

GOP leaders scheduled the one-day session at the cost of $42,000 because Charlotte’s ordinance was set to take effect April 1. Otherwise, the legislature wouldn’t have returned until late April.

Current Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who pressed since taking office to get the anti-discrimination ordinance approved, said she was appalled by the legislature’s actions.

“The General Assembly is on the wrong side of progress. It is on the wrong side of history,” Roberts said in a prepared statement.

The bill bars local governments statewide from prohibiting discrimination in public places based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It directs all public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require bathrooms or locker rooms be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex.

Transgender people who have transitioned to the opposite sex wouldn’t be affected if they get their birth certificate changed.

Democrats said the bill makes North Carolina less inclusive and interferes with local governments. They say the state could also risk billions in federal education dollars with the school policy.

“This is really not about bathrooms,” said Democratic Rep. Rodney Moore of Charlotte. “This is about fear.”

Ordinance supporters and opponents spoke to legislators in House and Senate committee members, telling of their personal stories and fears. They included Skye Thompson, 15, of Greenville, who was born female but now identifies as male. He told senators they were putting him in danger by requiring use of a women’s restroom.

“I’ve dealt with bullying my whole life and now I worry that my own state lawmakers are bullying me as well. I feel bullied by you guys,” Thompson said.

Donna Eaton of Cary said everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect but is worried that without Wednesday’s bill “it’s going to open the door for people with malicious intent who would masquerade as transgenders to come in and actually take advantage and have access to our kids.”

In a video, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is running for governor against McCrory, called Wednesday’s actions “shameful” and “unprecedented” and said they could hurt the state’s economy.

Russell Peck, the governor’s campaign manager, in turn accused Cooper of supporting “forcing women and young girls to use the same restrooms and locker rooms as grown men.”

Legislation requiring transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their birth gender have failed recently. South Dakota’s legislature failed to override Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s veto and a similar bill in Tennessee bill died Tuesday.

The bill also would  make clear local governments can’t require area businesses to pay workers above the current minimum wage, with some exceptions.

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