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McCrory signs bill overturning transgender ordinance

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Critics focused on the ability of transgender people to use the bathroom or locker rooms aligned with their gender identity

North Carolina Gov. 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.

McCrory's office released a statement Wednesday night, saying "the basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte."

The governor also said the "radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access not only impacts the citizens of Charlotte but people who come to Charlotte to work, visit or play. This new government regulation defies common sense and basic community norms by allowing, for example, a man to use a woman's bathroom, shower or locker room."

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, and Equality North Carolina condemned McCrory's action, and announced after the bill became law that the organizations are exploring legal challenges to the law.

"Instead of solving any real problems, the law would create new ones and could lead to intolerable and unfair conditions for transgender students who are entitled, by federal law, to a safe and equitable education," said Tara Borello, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal.

Republican majorities in the state House and Senate easily passed House Bill 2, blocking Charlotte's bathroom ordinance.

But something very unusual happened in the Senate - frustrated Democrats refused to vote on the bill, and walked out.

Facing a half-empty Senate chamber, Republican Sen.Tom Apodaca suggested Republicans move on with the vote.

"Mr. President, I move that we do third reading electronically, I don't think they're going to show back up," he said from the Senate floor.

After the Democrats walked out and let their empty seats do the talking. Republicans passed the bill without them, 32-0.

"I cannot recall a time when that's happened. I think it's a serious breach of (the Democrats') obligation to the citizens that voted to elect them," said Senate Pro-Tempore Phil Berger.

Still, in news releases sent out after the passage of the bill, Governor McCrory and legislative leaders referred to the measure as "bipartisan" - pointing out it did get votes from some Democrats.

The contentious vote proved a fitting end to what's been a controversial government power struggle.

Republicans argued that Charlotte had no authority to approve a city ordinance allowing transgender people to use the restroom aligned to their gender identity, a move to protect transgender citizens who felt intimidated or bullied in public restrooms.

HB2 blocks the ordinance and bars any other local government from enacting a similar measure.

"It's a terrible day for North Carolina. It's a terrible day," said Serena Sebring, a member of Southerner on New Ground, a group who came to oppose the General Assembly's vote. "People are harmed, people are going to be continued to be harmed. I would say shame on this state, shame on our lawmakers."

Social conservative activist Tami Fitzgerald led the fight against Charlotte's ordinance, arguing it gave license to sexual predators to enter the ladies' room.

"We're very pleased with the outcome", Fitzgerald said following the Senate vote. "Really it was just common sense, not to allow men in the women's bathrooms".

Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, also released a statement, saying in part, that, "we applaud Governor Pat McCrory for showing North Carolinians what a true leader looks like by sticking to his word in taking immediate action and signing HB2 into law. This new law strengthens North Carolina's already thriving business climate by giving business owners the freedom they deserve to do business effectively."

The law deals a blow to an LGBT movement that has had success getting similar ordinances approved in more than 200 cities across the country.

The ACLU of North Carolina issued an angry statement after the bill passed, calling the bill the "most-extreme anti-LGBT bill in the nation."

In part, the ACLU wrote:

The Charlotte ordinance protected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents from discrimination in public accommodations including restaurants, hotels, taxis and bathrooms. Among other protections, it allowed transgender men and transgender women to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. HB2 ... removes the ability of any local government to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and requires all public facilities, including schools, to allow restroom access only on the basis of "biological sex." It also jeopardizes the more than $4.5 billion in federal funding that North Carolina receives for secondary and post-secondary schools under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination, including discrimination against transgender students.

Republican leaders at the General Assembly scheduled a one-day session after enough lawmakers requested to reconvene. They were responding to worries from constituents and conservative activists about the provision in the state's largest city that's set to take effect April 1. Otherwise, they wouldn't have met again until late April.

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore has said intervening is necessary to protect the safety of women and children. 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.

"What we're doing is preserving a sense of privacy that people have long expected in private facilities and we are restoring and clarifying ... the existing authority and limits of authority of local government," said GOP Rep. Dan Bishop, who represents Charlotte, a bill sponsor.

NC Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, released a statement Wednesday after the House vote voicing his opposition to the passage of the bill.

"We're better than this. Discrimination is wrong, period," Cooper said, in part. "That North Carolina is making discrimination part of the law is shameful. It will not only cause real harm to families, but to our economy as well."

The NC GOP fired back at Cooper, who is running for governor, saying "today, lawmakers were forced to return to Raleigh to hold an emergency session of the General Assembly because Attorney General Roy Cooper refused to do his job and protect North Carolina families and children."

Representatives for gay-rights groups said overturning the ordinance is wrong and demonizing the community. They say blocking the ordinance 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.

At least 225 cities and counties nationwide have passed similar anti-discrimination laws.

"Charlotte's law is not unusual, unique or radical," said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina. "A special session to deal with such an ordinance is radical, unique and unusual."

Leading up to last month's approval in Charlotte, city leaders heard from LGBT residents who say they've experienced harassment and discrimination trying to use public accommodations.

The ordinance "sends a message to everyone that we matter," Erica Lachowitz of Charlotte, who was born male but identifies as female, said last week. Otherwise, she added, "we are afraid half the time to walk in to a bathroom that matches our gender identity."

McCrory, a Republican, has been critical of the ordinance in Charlotte, where he was mayor for 14 years.

Legislation requiring transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their birth gender have failed recently in other states. South Dakota's legislature failed to override Gov. Dennis Daugaard's veto of such legislation. A similar Tennessee bill died Tuesday in a House committee.

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