State lawmakers came to Raleigh today for a ten-minute session at which nothing was accomplished, but for which taxpayers paid tens of thousands of dollars.
The session date, scheduled last year, was enacted through an adjournment resolution so lawmakers could respond to any problems the courts or the DOJ might find with the new GOP voting maps.
Those maps have already been approved by the DOJ, and the courts have declined to stay them. Yet lawmakers met anyway.
House Rules Chairman Tim Moore said it was easier to convene than to try amend the adjournment resolution - the same one GOP leaders managed to amend at 11:45pm on January 4th to allow a post-midnight veto override early on the 5th.
The non-partisan Legislative Services Office has estimated the cost of a day of session at around $50,000, though House Speaker Thom Tillis has said he thinks it's less.
Many lawmakers said today they would give up their $104 per diem, intended to defray the cost of lodging and meals. If all 120 deferred the compensation, it would lower the cost of the day's session by about $17,000, approximately a third of the estimated cost.
Tonight's story on it is at right.
"The People's House"?
Meantime, the ACLU of NC says legislative leaders may have violated the constitutional rights of Democratic protestors at today's session.
A group of Democrat-affiliated activists held a rally outside the legislature today, blasting Republican leaders for what they call an "extreme agenda" and "divisive and dishonest" tactics - especially last month's surprise 1am veto override vote.
Just before the noon session, the group moved inside to line the hallway outside Tillis's office, carrying 8.5 x 11" pieces of paper with political messages criticizing Tillis and other GOP leaders.
A few minutes later, General Assembly police came to disperse the protest.
First, protestors say, they were told their signs violated building rules - hard to believe in a building that's utterly awash in pieces of 8.5 x 11" paper.
Then they were told the public isn't allowed on the second floor of the legislative building without an appointment.
That was news to the dozens of lobbyists who frequent the second floor, and to reporters like me who've seen any number of groups gather unchallenged outside the Speaker's office over the years. Some may have had appointments, but others were clearly impromptu. I can't remember any of them being dispersed by GA police.
The rule does exist, and has since 1987. It's just rarely enforced.
House Minority Leader Joe Hackney said he didn't know anything about it. "In my four years as Speaker, I don’t remember ever it coming up,” he said.
Hackney was asked if he’d ever had unfriendly groups line up outside his office during that time. “Oh yeah, that happened,” he chuckled.
The protestors weren't kicked out of the building all together. Instead, they were asked to move upstairs to watch the session from the gallery. But one of the organizers, Progress NC's Gerrick Brenner, wasn't mollified.
"We understand the reason for security," said Brenner. "But people can come up on the second floor all the time. The doors are unlocked, you don’t need to sign in, you don’t need to show ID."
Republican leaders cited security concerns as the reason for dispersing the crowd. Several protestors were arrested last year in the House gallery, and some even burst onto the House floor, leading to tighter security at the chamber's entrances.
Brenner pointed out that today's protestors weren't yelling or chanting or giving any indication they intended to break the rules of the public space.
"But when you have 70 people who want to communicate with the House speaker with an eight-and-a-half by eleven piece of paper, apparently they’re concerned and paranoid about that," he said.
ACLU of NC legal director Katy Parker was more blunt.
"We think it may have been unconstitutional," she said.
Tillis's office has not yet responded to requests for clarification.