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Chants Echo Across The Capital, As Lawmakers Return To Raleigh

It was a bustling first day back at the General Assembly with multiple protests, a national media presence, and legislative efforts to reverse a controversial measure that was passed last month during a special session.

Lawmakers from across the state convened in Raleigh Monday for the start of the short legislative session. Policymakers are tasked primarily with reworking the budget during odd-year sessions, however, with the spotlight on the state's new so called "bathroom bill" the fiscal agenda is not the top story on Jones St.Jorge Valencia reports on the protests surrounding and interrupting the legislative session in Raleigh.

In the morning a group of Democrats from the North Carolina House filed HB946. This proposal is likely to be symbolic. Democrats made economic arguments - citing lost jobs, canceled conferences and performances, and a damaged reputation to the state - in asking HB946 to receive consideration. It would be a significant reply if the Democrat's bill goes anywhere. Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) has said repeatedly there is no appetite for repeal, and that the majority of people he has heard from stand by the measure.

Some opponents of House Bill 2 held these signs during a rally Monday afternoon on the Capitol Mall.
Jeff Tiberii
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Some opponents of House Bill 2 held these signs during a rally Monday afternoon on the Capitol Mall.

Meanwhile, Monday brought supporters and opponents to the capital. Some backers of HB2 gathered outside the legislative building in the morning. Many arrived in church or private school buses.

"This is a moral issue," said Jennifer Andersonm who traveled with members of her church for two-and-a-half hours from their home in Wilkes County.

Several hundred people gathered around this stage Monday morning, supporting House Bill 2.
Jorge Valencia
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Several hundred people gathered around this stage Monday morning, supporting House Bill 2.

"I have two eight-year-old daughters. It just really bothers me that they may be in a McDonald's, Target, wherever they may be and that a man may be able to come in and be allowed to use their restroom."

The law requires transgender people to use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificate. Beyond that restroom provision HB2 also removes some local protections for the LGBT community, prohibits lawsuits in state court over alleged discrimination, and bans municipalities from enacting minimum wage requirements higher than the federal standard.

On the opposite side of the legislative building opponents of the new law gathered to have their voice heard. The Raging Grannies sang to a crowd.

"Government overreach surely must be, when they start making laws about where we can pee. So it's Monday in Raleigh and we're back today to tell Pat McCrory that it's here we will stay."

The anti-HB2 protests continued into the evening and resulted in 54 arrests. North Carolina NAACP leader Rev. William Barber II led protesters through the second floor of the legislative building to leave placards and signs at the offices of Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, urging them to repeal HB2.

Protestors left placards and signs opposing HB2 outside House Speaker Tim Moore's office. General Assembly Sergeant at Arms tried to clear the floor so people wouldn't slip on them.
Jess Clark
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Protestors left placards and signs opposing HB2 outside House Speaker Tim Moore's office. General Assembly Sergeant at Arms tried to clear the floor so people wouldn't slip on them.

Eighteen of those protestors sat down inside Rep. Moore's office and refused to leave. Police arrested them, charged them with second-degree trespassing and led them out of the building with their hands bound with zip-ties. Police charged one man for resisting arrest.

During the House's session, another group of protestors, mostly young people, interrupted the speaker with protest chants as he tried to adjourn the meeting. Those protestors joined others in the lobby of the legislative building after lawmakers adjourned, rallying, chanting and dancing.

Another 36 protestors were arrested after the session ended. They sat down outside the speaker's office and refused to leave after the building had closed. They were each arrested and charged with second-degree trespassing and violating building rules. Police led them out of the building with their hands zip-tied.

HB2 supporters rallied on the lawn behind the General Assembly building.
Jorge Valencia /
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HB2 supporters rallied on the lawn behind the General Assembly building.

Copyright 2016 North Carolina Public Radio

Jeff Tiberii first started posing questions to strangers after dinner at La Cantina Italiana, in Massachusetts, when he was two-years-old. Jeff grew up in Wayland, Ma., an avid fan of the Boston Celtics, and took summer vacations to Acadia National Park (ME) with his family. He graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, and moved to North Carolina in 2006. His experience with NPR member stations WAER (Syracuse), WFDD (Winston-Salem) and now WUNC, dates back 15 years.
Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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