Cooper calls for 'bathroom bill' repeal in State of State

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Gov. Roy Cooper quickly issued another call for the repeal of HB2.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper urged lawmakers gathered Monday night to repeal the state's "bathroom bill" very soon, saying the law is "the dark cloud hanging over our state of promise" by harming North Carolina's economy and reputation.

Delivering his first State of the State speech as governor to the Republican-controlled legislature, Cooper almost immediately addressed the law known as House Bill 2, which limits LGBT rights and the restrooms transgender people can use in schools and other government buildings.

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Cooper, the attorney general for the past 16 years, narrowly defeated GOP Gov. Pat McCrory last fall with a platform that emphasized McCrory's support for HB2. He said people are sick of the law and wondering whether "this heavy anchor weighing us down" will be cut away.

WATCH: Gov. Roy Cooper's full State-of-the-State address
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Gov. Roy Cooper gives his first State-of-the-State.

"The law has damaged our state. The legislature must erase this law from our books," Cooper told House and Senate members gathered in the House chamber for the biennial gubernatorial speech. "It drains the energy from what should be our work for the people of this state."

Cooper and GOP legislators also have been entangled over what to do about the law, which has caused some businesses and sporting events to spurn North Carolina in the name of fighting discrimination, leading to moving last month's NBA All-Star game out of Charlotte and NCAA championships from the state this academic year.

Compromises have crumbled since December. Pressure has increased to find a solution before the NCAA soon decides whether to remove North Carolina locations from a bid to host championship events through 2022. Cooper wants a complete HB2 repeal, but Republicans say some additional restrictions are necessary.

"Pass a compromise repeal that works to eliminate discrimination and brings back jobs, sports and entertainment and I will sign it - as long as it truly gets the job done," he said, adding "let's do it this week. It's time to move on."

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, delivered the Republican response Monday. He has blamed Cooper for urging Democratic lawmakers to oppose recent compromises.

"Across the state, Republican legislators received hundreds of thousands more votes than their Democratic opponents," Berger said. "Yet Roy Cooper, who squeaked into office by a mere 10,000 votes, has treated his election as a mandate to fight Republicans rather than an opportunity to work together."

WATCH: Sen. Phil Berger's full Republican response
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Sen. Phil Berger gives the Republican response to Gov. Roy Cooper's State of the State.

Republicans also touted their many successes during the past six years.

"He's talking a lot of the same things we were already doing and that our budget will most likely also do," House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore, said.

Cooper addressed a General Assembly that has fought him in court and in public since he was declared the election winner in early December. Just before he took office Jan. 1, GOP legislators passed laws that stripped Cooper of his powers, including Senate confirmation of his Cabinet. Cooper sued over the laws and the litigation is pending.

"Instead of seeking middle ground, he's sued to block commonsense, popular reforms like voter ID. And laws he doesn't like, he simply ignores," Berger said.

Although his budget proposal released two weeks ago was already panned by GOP senators as bloated, Cooper focused on some initiatives in it that Republicans seem likely to support in principle.

"To find the common ground we seek, let's listen to North Carolinians urging us to set aside divisive social issues and political power struggles," he told House and Senate members.

They include higher teacher pay, the revival of a college loan forgiveness program for aspiring teachers, and legislation to combat the state's growing opioid addiction problem. He cited gubernatorial guests in the House gallery to reinforce his lobbying, particularly for public education.

He reinforced his earlier announced goals to make North Carolina by 2025 a top-ten leader among the states in pre-K participation, high school graduation rates and the percentage of adults with higher education degrees.

"We have to measure our progress and hold ourselves accountable," he said. He pushed his effort for community college scholarships and to revive a program providing forgivable loans for college students who agree to become teachers.

While the state economy has been recovering since the Great Recession, Cooper said there are still problems for regular North Carolina residents.

"I want North Carolinians to be better educated, healthier and have more money in their pockets," Cooper said in prepared remarks, adding that financially "too many people feel stuck in the middle" and "feel left behind by a system that isn't listening to them and an economy that isn't rewarding them for their hard work."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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