By Cameron McWhirter and Jon Kamp
Lawmakers in North Carolina headed for a showdown Friday as the state's Republican-dominated legislature seeks to pass bills that would reduce the authority of the state's incoming Democratic governor.
The battle marks the latest example of Republican lawmakers wielding their clout in U.S. statehouses, where they strengthened their hold after last month's election.
Protests erupted in the General Assembly in Raleigh Thursday as the House passed one bill that would give the legislature, rather than the governor, power to appoint trustees to state universities. Police arrested about 16 people. Protesters were removed from the House chamber again Friday as lawmakers debated, and continued to protest outside the chamber.
The same bill would reduce the number of state job appointments controlled by the governor to 300 from about 1,500 currently, and would take away control of state education departments from the governor. Other legislation would take away gubernatorial control over other appointments and agencies, among other measures.
The moves in aggregate would reduce the power of governor-elect Roy Cooper, the Democratic state attorney general who narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Pat McCrory in last month's election. Mr. McCrory didn't concede until Dec. 5 after initial GOP calls for a recount.
Mr. Cooper, who takes office next month, has threatened to sue. "If I believe that laws passed by the Legislature hurt working families and are unconstitutional, they will see me in court," he said in a press conference Thursday. He said most people see the GOP-led moves "as a partisan power grab, but it is really more ominous."
Mr.McCrory hasn't said whether or not he would sign the controversial bills if they reach his desk. His office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
North Carolina Republicans have defended the bills.
In an email sent to supporters Thursday, Robin Hayes, chairman of North Carolina Republican Party, said the legislature was proposing "something we can all agree on -- removing the hyper-partisanship out of our elections' administration" and other moves to make government more transparent and balanced.
He also said Democrats, when they controlled the legislature in the past, had passed laws to get rid of state workers for political reasons.
Numerous Republican legislators introduced the bills during a last-minute special session that followed a special session earlier this week focused on disaster relief for communities hit by Hurricane Matthew and severe flooding in October. The legislature approved a $200 million aid package, but then called for another special session for the controversial bills, most of them submitted late Wednesday night.
The special session closes out a roiling political year in North Carolina, after the General Assembly passed a bill during a special session in March that required transgender people to use public facility bathrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate. The law also eliminated municipal nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people and prevents such protections from being enacted in the future.
Gov. McCrory signed the bill into law and defended it. The U.S. Justice Department and others are suing the state over the law and Gov.-elect Cooper has vowed to repeal it.
Write to Cameron McWhirter at firstname.lastname@example.org and Jon Kamp at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 16, 2016 12:40 ET (17:40 GMT)
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