Back in February, General Assembly police removed protesters from the second floor of the legislative building citing a rule that few long-time denizens of Jones Street knew about.
Democrats are now asking the Legislative Services Commission, a joint House-Senate panel run by the House Speaker and President Pro Tempore, to revisit the rule. For those unfamiliar with "Rules For Use Of State Legislative Building", Rule 3 reads:
3. Visiting on Second Floor of State Legislative Building. Individuals and groups of visitors who come to the State Legislative Building for the purpose of viewing the building and observing the sessions of either or both houses shall not visit the second floor of the building. Legislative staff guides shall conduct groups of visitors so as to comply with this rule. Visitors on the second floor shall, at the request of the legislative staff, state the nature of their business on that floor, and shall immediately leave that floor at the request of legislative staff.
Of course, if you didn't check the Internet before heading down the building, the only place to find a copy of Rule 3 would be on a small, framed sign just near the guard desk as you enter the building.
The February protest had a bit of a partisan-tinge to it. The protesters were objecting to the use of serial mini session to conduct legislative business, a key complaint of Democrats during the past year.
Rep. Joe Hackney, the House minority leader, and Sen. Martin Nesbitt, the Senate minority leader, say the Legislative Service Commission should re-visit the rule as it was applied to protesters lead by Democracy NC in February:
"We believe that the first sentence as properly applied forbids access to the second floor only for persons in the building "for the purpose of viewing the building" or "observing the sessions." Since a visitor observes the session properly only by going to the third floor gallery it seems quite proper to have them guided there and not have them enter the chamber from the second floor. Also, it seems quite legitimate to guide persons to other who are just “viewing the building” to be guided to other floors.
"Yet, there are other important, legitimate, and constitutionally protected reasons for citizens to come to the second floor, since the Office of the Principal Clerk and 18 members, including the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore, have their offices there, and the right of citizens to petition for redress of grievances must include the right to visit members if done in a peaceable manner.
"What is troubling and incorrect is the recent interpretation of the last sentence of the rule as a grounds to eject the public from the second floor: “Visitors on the second floor shall, at the request of the legislative staff, state the nature of their business on that floor, and shall immediately leave that floor at the request of legislative staff.” This sentence is merely a means of enforcement of the rule that prohibits two types of visitation to the second floor, and not some independent, vague, and unconstitutional reason for ejection that gives unbridled discretion to legislative staff. The public can be required under the rule to state their business, and if the reason given is not permitted by the rule, then the person may be required to leave the second floor."
Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, said his office had just received the request so he couldn't comment on it right away.
Update: The response from Shaw: "We welcome any constructive suggestions to maintain public access to the legislative building that ensures the safety and security of the members and staff."