By Cameron McWhirter and Jon Kamp

North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill Friday that removes some authority from the state's incoming Democratic governor by merging the state's election and ethics boards.

Late Friday afternoon, lawmakers passed more legislation restricting the governor's powers and sent it to Gov. McCrory. He hasn't said whether he would sign that bill, which would limit the ability of his successor, Roy Cooper, to appoint and hire throughout state government, from the universities to cabinet posts to other positions.

"The courts will have to clean up the mess the legislature made, but it won't stop us from moving North Carolina forward," Governor-elect Cooper said in a statement Friday afternoon.

The North Carolina actions are the latest example of Republican lawmakers wielding their clout in U.S. statehouses, where they strengthened their hold after last month's election.

The bill Gov. McCrory signed into law strips Governor-elect Cooper of some of the power he would have when he begins his term Jan. 1, because the newly merged board must be comprised equally of Democrats and Republicans. The previous setup would have allowed Mr. Cooper to appoint more Democrats to the election and ethics boards, if he chose.

The General Assembly's apparent power play got under way earlier this week, on the heels of a special session to provide disaster relief to 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.

Governor-elect Roy Cooper,the Democratic state attorney general who narrowly defeated Gov. McCrory in last month's election, 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."

In a tweet Friday, he added to his earlier remarks, saying, "What is happening now may look like partisan political games, but the result will hurt North Carolinians."

Gov. McCrory signed the state Senate bill but hasn't said whether he would sign other measures likely to come to his desk soon from the Legislature's special session meetings. His office didn't respond to requests for comment.

Protests erupted in the General Assembly in Raleigh on Thursday and Friday as the measures were introduced, reviewed and passed with little input from Democrats or the public. Police said they arrested about 16 people on Thursday, and local media reported more arrests Friday. Some protesters taped their mouths to represent their view that their voices weren't being heard.

Republicans defended the moves. In a discussion in the state Senate on Friday about the proposed board mergers, Sen. Tommy Tucker said the new plan "will be truly bipartisan" and "it would be a much better situation" for voters wanting transparency and good government.

But Democratic State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. said the claim of bipartisanship was "somewhat dubious" because the last-minute moves by the Republicans in a special session "would appear to be politically motivated and driven."

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.

Mr. Hayes also said Democrats, when they controlled the legislature in the past, had passed laws to get rid of state workers for political reasons.

The last-minute 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 cameron.mcwhirter@wsj.com and Jon Kamp at jon.kamp@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 16, 2016 17:51 ET (22:51 GMT)

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