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North Carolina governor tweaks controversial law – just a bit

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Gerry Broome/AP

(Read caption) Gov. Pat McCrory makes remarks during an interview at the Governor's mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, April 12, 2016. McCrory says he wants to change a new state law that prevents people from suing over discrimination in state court, but he's not challenging a measure regarding bathroom access for transgender people.

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North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory addressed the state’s controversial House Bill 2, and nationwide protests aimed at the bill, with an executive order Tuesday.

The new law, officially called HB 2 but informally referred to as the "bathroom bill," prohibits any public agency within the state, including schools and municipalities, from allowing people to use public restrooms and changing rooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificate, permits businesses to refuse service to customers because of gender identity or sexual orientation, and bans cities and towns within North Carolina from passing non-discrimination ordinances that could potentially overrule HB 2 within a community.

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And Gov. McCrory’s executive order Tuesday offers little consolation to protestors, leaving the most controversial aspects of the bill intact. McCrory says state government employees will be protected from gender and sexual orientation discrimination, and he will ask the state legislature to pass a law allowing LGBT employees to sue if they feel discriminated against. LGBT advocates in North Carolina argue that McCrory’s executive order seeks to silence protestors without really addressing their problems with the bill. 

“Governor McCrory’s executive order is a day late and a veto short,” Roy Cooper, the attorney general of North Carolina, tweeted Tuesday. “The sweeping discrimination law he signed has already cost North Carolina hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. I’m glad Governor McCrory has finally acknowledged the great damage his legislation has done, but he needs to do much more.” 

When referencing the state’s lost revenue from HB 2, Mr. Cooper is referring to PayPal and Deutsche Bank, who within the last week, have both called off proposed expansions in North Carolina due to the controversial law. And as for future lost revenue, a tourism agency said HB2 could torpedo the state’s tourism industry, costing the state millions

Instead of fighting back against HB 2 on moral grounds, opponents say McCrory is trying to save face during an election year, as he campaigns against Cooper who is running for the position of governor himself. 

Defenders of the controversial bill argue that – at its heart – HB2 is a commonsense measure designed to ensure that users of public restrooms will not encounter members of the opposite sex. But those who oppose it see the bill as an attempt to write discrimination into state law.

“Gov. McCrory’s actions today are a poor effort to save face after his sweeping attacks on the LGBT community, and they fall far short of correcting the damage done when he signed into law the harmful House Bill 2, which stigmatizes and mandates discrimination against gay and transgender people,” Sarah Preston, acting director of the North Carolina’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, said in a statement Tuesday. “With this executive order, LGBT individuals still lack legal protections from discrimination, and transgender people are still explicitly targeted by being forced to use the wrong restroom.” 

According to RealClear Politics, Cooper has a slight lead over incumbent McCrory in the polls. 

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“McCrory said that, with his order, he was ‘taking action to affirm and improve the state’s commitment to privacy and equality.’ A close reading though, reveals mostly empty language that leaves every element of House Bill 2 in place,” the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board writes Tuesday. Instead of action, the governor’s changes “demonstrate the opposite – that North Carolina is not a welcoming state – and that McCrory is flailing in the heat of an election year. The legislature dumped a bad bill on McCrory’s desk. He signed it and is now looking for a way out. State employee protections are worth something, but bold leadership requires more.”