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New rules for legislative building to be discussed

Posted May 14, 2014

State NAACP President Rev. William Barber talks with supporters on May 14, 2014, about plans to revive the "Moral Monday" protests during the legislative session.

— A committee of legislative leaders that hasn't met since the 1990s is preparing to redraw rules Thursday for decorum in the legislative building. The changes come as activists who are part of the "Moral Monday" movement promise to renew their weekly protests at the General Assembly. 

"We're trying to make sure, No. 1, the rules are up to date," said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, the House Rules chairman and a member of the Legislative Services Commission. "We also want to make sure the rules we have are fair." 

However, some groups say the potential revisions could allow for "selective enforcement." 

Rules for the General Assembly are set by the commission, which is scheduled to meet Thursday at 10 a.m. 

Moore said the panel hasn't met since Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, was speaker of the House in the early 1990s. The building rules now posted on the legislature's website date back even further – to the late 1980s. General Assembly opens 2014 short session Proposal for new legislative building rules

For years, few people took note of the rules, which are also posted on a little-observed sign that hangs near the entrance to the building.

But as protests against Republican policies led to arrests last year, questions about the rules arose. Most of the nearly 1,000 Moral Monday protesters arrested in 2013 were charged with "violating building rules." 

The rules, for example, currently ban visitors from the second floor of the three-story building. The second floor is where the office of the speaker of the House and Senate president pro tem are located, as well as the entrances to the House and Senate chambers. Lobbyists, journalists and others with business at the legislature regularly visit the second floor of the building, despite the rules.

But in 2013, protesters ran afoul of the rule when they gathered in the courtyard between the chambers. Moral Monday, July 15 'Moral Monday' protests returning to legislature next week Moral Monday arrests Barber pledges 'Moral Mondays' will return to NC legislature

Building rules currently ban protesters from carrying signs "expressing support for or opposition to an issue," with the exceptions of buttons or badges. 

"That, to me, sounded like a prohibition based on the content of speech," said Moore. 

Some judges have agreed with that assessment. A number of the Moral Monday protesters have been convicted, others have accepted plea deals and some have been exonerated. Moore said the new rules were aimed, at least in part, at "making very clear" when someone was violating the rules and making convictions easier to obtain, when necessary. 

The proposed new rules would remove the prohibition on visiting the second floor and allow visitors to carry signs, as long as they were not mounted on sticks or weren't "libelous or vulgar." 

Moore said lawmakers have consulted with police and the Wake County district attorney, as well as civil rights groups. 

Some of those groups expressed skepticism about the revisions Wednesday night. 

"Constitutional lawyers are skeptical that the rules will pass constitutional muster, since Article I, Sec. 14 of the N.C. Constitution guarantees the rights of the people to 'instruct their representatives in the General Assembly' about how the people feel about the policies being discussed there," Al McSurely, a lawyer and spokesperson for North Carolina Conference of the NAACP, wrote in an email.

The civil rights group has been a major driver of the Moral Monday protests. 

Sarah Preston, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ACLU is worried about how the new rules would be enforced. 

"Some of them seem to invite selective enforcement," she said. 

For example, one new rules reads, "Making noise that is loud enough to impair others' ability to conduct a conversation in a normal tone of voice while in the general vicinity and may include singing, clapping, shouting, or playing instruments." 

Preston said that could set up a situation in which some are allowed to clap, while leaders clamp down on others. 

Other provisions say visitors can't "disturb" work in the building. 

"We do have concerns about how that would be interpreted," Preston said. 

House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger are ex officio members of the commission, but it's unclear whether they will participate in Thursday's meeting.

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  • Larry Lynch May 15, 2014
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    I say- protest your politicans- especially the ones we have now. we should demand mandatory drug testing for all court house officials and all politicans.

  • gotnoid May 15, 2014

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    But did they win elections?

  • miseem May 15, 2014

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    More NC voters voted for Dems for seats in the NCGA than for GOP candidates in the last election. And it was not due to voter fraud. You may want to reassess your statement.

  • gotnoid May 15, 2014

    The way to change the politics is to win elections. I don't agree with Obama's Politics but I don't go to his Office and try to disrupt his work--I will try to help defeat his party.
    These protests are in conflict with the will of the majority of NC voters.

  • Carl Keehn May 15, 2014
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    How about restricting access to polling places by moving them to a site with inadequate parking and no safe sidewalks to walk there.

    How about challenging students from a Historically Black University while at the same time holding registration drives at a private, primarily white Christian University.

  • WRAL_USER May 15, 2014

    Now who decides what is a "disruption"? The GOP will claim anything that opposes them is a "disruption" More crooked, pitiful actions by our NC legislature. GOP crooks one and all...

  • Collin McLoud May 15, 2014
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    Explain how the GOP is suppressing voting rights? The law applies to everyone in NC, not just a specific demographic as the dems would like to suggest. Your argument lacks substance.

  • May 15, 2014

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    Nope. Just you. The rest they deem to be idjits.

  • Ty Rammstein May 15, 2014
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    we can be certain of one thing: the GOP will tell us the new rules are to protect people or some other cover story but in reality what they are doing is suppressing opposition..the NC GOP can not tolerate criticism or reality and like their attempts to suppress voting rights the state GOP will do ANYTHING to remain in power and abuse power and us.

  • Carl Keehn May 15, 2014
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    What are the current rules for protest? Do they include tossing tea bags from the gallery on the legislature below?

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