Legislative leaders in North Carolina have reached a deal to repeal a law that bans transgender people from using public bathrooms of their gender identity, but rights activists warn it fails to assure state-wide protections.
The so-called "bathroom bill," which has drawn intense controversy since it was debated in 2015 and narrowly passed by the state last March, is slated Thursday for a series of repeal votes in the state legislature.
The agreement struck between Republican lawmakers and Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is aimed in part at removing a negative spotlight that has driven away some big business and led major sports organizations to keep key athletic events out of the state.
The initial legislation in North Carolina -- a southeastern swing state that helped elect Republican Donald Trump president last November -- featured prominently in the broader cultural war between conservatives and liberals in contemporary America.
The law, signed by the previous Republican governor and often referred to as HB2, stated that in schools and government buildings transgender people had to use restrooms corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate.
Following a year of turmoil, an agreement was struck late Wednesday that repeals HB2.
But the replacement bill would include a concession to conservatives by placing regulation of bathrooms under exclusive state control until December 2020, thereby barring local governments and cities from passing their own anti-discrimination laws.
"I support the House Bill 2 repeal compromise that will be introduced tomorrow," the governor said. "It's not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation."
It was an anti-discrimination ordinance in the city of Charlotte that touched off a furious debate in February 2016. That rule allowed transgender people to use the restroom of their choice.
'License to discriminate'
Rights groups strongly condemned the latest deal, with the Human Rights Campaign warning that any lawmaker who supports it is "no ally of LGBTQ people."
"This proposal masquerading as a solution is really an extreme license to discriminate -- the last thing that North Carolina needs," Cathryn Oakley, the group's senior legislative counsel, said in a statement.
North Carolina's bathroom bill was the first of its kind, and it has had an impact on local business, with major corporations, performers like Bruce Springsteen and sports leagues boycotting the state.
The 2017 NBA All-Star Game was moved out of Charlotte to New Orleans, causing millions of dollars in lost revenue.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association this week began considering site selections for 2018-2022 championships, a move that no doubt heaps pressure on the Tarheel State.
The NCAA sent a stern message that it will not choose North Carolina sites unless changes are made.
"Last year, the NCAA Board of Governors relocated NCAA championships scheduled in North Carolina because of the cumulative impact HB2 had on local communities' ability to assure a safe, healthy, discrimination-free atmosphere for all those watching and participating in our events," the NCAA said on its website.
"Absent any change in the law, our position remains the same regarding hosting current or future events in the state."