(CN) - North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday signed a bill repealing the state's notorious anti-transgender “bathroom bill,” calling it a first step in repairing the state's image.
"For over a year now, House Bill 2 has been a dark cloud hanging over our great state. It has stained our reputation. It has discriminated against our people and it has caused great economic harm in many of our communities," he said.
"It wasn't a perfect deal or my preferred solution, but an important first step for our state," Cooper said. "It is an important step. It cannot be the only step."
Cooper, a Democrat, signed the bill just hours after the measure was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The measure passed the state Senate by a 32-16 vote; it passed in the House, 70-48. But critics say the compromise bill doesn't go far enough to protect the LGBTQ community.
Cooper and leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature announced the deal Wednesday night, worked out its details under mounting pressure from the NCAA, whose boycott would cost the state millions.
Cooper urged lawmakers to support the deal as they gathered to debate it Thursday morning, but both sides voiced objections. While conservatives argued that House Bill 2 should remain in place, activists from the LGBTQ community complained that the new measure still denies them protections from discrimination.
Throughout the morning-long debate, first in the North Carolina Senate chamber and then in the General Assembly, lawmakers alternately railed at having to bow to pressure and repeal House Bill 2 and at the city of Charlotte and the "special interests" they blame for igniting the controversy in the first place.
It was the Charlotte's decision to expand protections for gays and transgender individuals that prompted GOP lawmakers to rush House Bill 2 through the legislature and on to the desk of then-Gov. Pat McCrory just over a year ago.
Since then, collegiate organizations and entertainers have pulled North Carolina events and concerts from their schedules, and several national and international corporations urged the lawmakers to reconsider their position or risk future business expansions in the state.
The NCAA warned that if the Legislature missed a noon deadline to vote, it would consider pulling more sporting events from the state. Unless House Bill 2 was repealed, the NCAA promising to count North Carolina sites out for championship events from 2018 to 2022.
Even with the prospect of losing tens of millions of dollars in revenue hanging over their heads, however, it was unclear early Thursday whether enough House and Senate members would support the bill for it to pass. Some members expressed anger specifically at the NCAA before casting their votes.
The Legislature voted in favor of a replacement bill shortly before 2 p.m. Thursday.
Cooper, who narrowly defeated McCrory last fall on a platform that included repealing House Bill 2, admitted in a written statement that the deal is far from perfect, but said "it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation."
In a separate statement, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said, "Compromise requires give and take from all sides, and we are pleased this proposal fully protects bathroom safety and privacy."
House Bill 2 limits LGBT nondiscrimination protections and requires transgender people to use restrooms in schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.
The new proposal would repeal HB2 but would leave state legislators in charge of policy on public multi-stall restrooms.
Local governments also couldn't pass ordinances extending nondiscrimination covering things like sexual orientation and gender identity until December 2020.
Moore and Berger said the moratorium is necessary to allow pending federal litigation over transgender issues to be resolved.
But the fact the proposed end of House Bill 2 falls far short of a full repeal has angered many who opposed the law in the first place.
"At its core, it's a statewide prohibition on equality," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin told reporters Wednesday afternoon, when details of the proposal first became public. "Just like we did with ... McCrory, we will hold all elected officials accountable — Democrats and Republicans — who target our community by advancing this statewide ban on nondiscrimination protections."
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina also blasted the repeal bill Thursday, and urging lawmakers to reject what it called a "disgraceful backroom deal that uses the rights of LGBT people as a bargaining chip.”
“One year after HB2 was introduced and signed into law in just 12 hours, it is shameful that legislative leaders and North Carolina’s governor are once again rushing through a discriminatory anti-LGBT measure without proper vetting or an opportunity for public input," said Sarah Gillooly, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina. "The way to undo HB2’s profound damage to North Carolina and its people has always been a full, clean repeal, but this proposal would keep anti-LGBT provisions of the law in place and continue to single out and target transgender people. Lawmakers must vote against this proposal, and should it reach his desk, Governor Cooper should withdraw his support and veto it.”
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