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North Carolina 'bathroom bill' tweaked but not reversed

North Carolina lawmakers voted Friday to restore workers' right to use state law to sue over employment discrimination. But it won't change workplace protections based on gender identity.

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Lee Churchill, of Raleigh, shows her support of HB2 - the so-called gender identity 'bathroom bill' during an April 2016 rally at the Halifax Mall in Raleigh, N.C.

(Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer via AP)

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A law limiting protections for LGBT people emerged largely unchanged after North Carolina lawmakers revisited it during their yearly legislative session.

After days of closed-door meetings to discuss possible changes, the North Carolina General Assembly voted Friday to restore workers' right to use state law to sue over employment discrimination. But the change won't enhance workplace protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, nor does it affect other provisions decried by gay rights advocates, business leaders and other high-profile critics.

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"This was the lowest of the low hanging fruit. It does nothing to fix the core discrimination in that law," said Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake.

The revision heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory, who pushed for the change to the law that was enacted after a special session earlier this year. McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said by email late Friday the governor "is pleased the General Assembly has acted on his request."

Critics including the NBA had urged legislators to revisit the law during their annual work session.

There was no appetite among Republican lawmakers to undo a requirement that transgender people must use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings. That provision of the law lies at the heart of two legal challenges and has raised some of the biggest objections from equality advocates.

The law also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections.

Democrats complained during floor debate that the most onerous provisions of the law weren't addressed.

Rep. Chris Sgro of Guilford County, who serves as executive director of Equality North Carolina, said: "While this is important, it doesn't go nearly far enough."

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Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said the change on workplace lawsuits answered requests from McCrory and business leaders. But he reiterated his belief that the bathroom access provisions remaining in the law protect public safety.

"Protecting the safety and privacy of North Carolina families by keeping grown men out of bathrooms, shower facilities and changing rooms with women and young girls has always been our primary objective," Berger said in a statement.

McCrory didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment Friday night.

Pressure to change the law has come from business leaders, entertainers and the NBA, which has been weighing whether to keep the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte. Commissioner Adam Silver said this month that progress was needed toward changing the law this summer to ensure the event stays in the city.

On Friday, the legislature also approved giving Gov. Pat McCrory's office $500,000 to defend the law in court, transferring the money from a disaster relief fund. The move drew jibes from gay rights advocates.

The law also throws into question the state's viability as a host for NCAA sporting events. Weeks after North Carolina's law was enacted, the association passed a measure requiring host sites to demonstrate that they are "free of discrimination."

Entertainers including Bruce Springsteen have canceled concerts to protest the law, while scores of business leaders signed a letter seeking its repeal. Rallies to support the law, meanwhile, drew thousands of conservatives to Raleigh.