A North Carolina General Assembly committee passed new rules governing public access to the Legislature on Thursday; rules that would have a direct impact on the Moral Monday protests.
The protests brought thousands of people to the legislative sessions in 2013 who were opposed to the Republican agenda. But the demonstrations frustrated legislative leaders as hundreds of people jammed the legislative complex.
The new rules, which were changes to existing rules, were passed Thursday by the Legislative Services Commission. The committee had not met since 1999, and the rules had not been altered since 1987.
The committee includes eight Republicans and two Democrats, and the new rules passed by a voice vote.
"It's not directed specifically at the protesters," said committee chair Tim Moore, a Republican. "These rules were last updated in 1987. They really needed to be addressed."
But Rep. Larry Hall, A Democrat and the House minority leader, said, "This is not regarding safety. This is limiting people's ability to have their voices heard."
The new rules do not allow groups to "disturb, or create an imminent disturbance," at the General Assembly.
They state that visitors may be asked to leave the Legislative Building if they are found to be disturbing "the General Assembly, one of its houses, or its committees, members, or staff in the performance of their duties."
Behaviors that could violate the rules "may include singing, clapping, shouting, playing instruments or using sound amplification equipment."The new rules further prohibit signs on handsticks and say that signs that disturb members will be confiscated.
The rules also place limits on gathering at the General Assembly, especially in front of the main South entrance on Jones Street.
Groups that expect to draw between 25 and 200 people can ask to reserve space at the South entrance. But, the rules now state, "This location may not be reserved for coordinated activities the person or group reasonably expects will involve 200 or more participants."
"It's really designed to have a chilling effect on those who might participate in Moral Monday demonstrations," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Democrat from Durham.
Moore, the commission chair, said the rules would not impact Halifax Mall, which is where many Moral Monday demonstrations were held.
Non-violent protests outside the Legislature's chambers last year led to more than 900 arrests during more than a dozen demonstrations organizers dubbed "Moral Mondays." The Rev. William Barber, the head of the NAACP in North Carolina, said Wednesday that the protests will resume next week.
Barber said the protests will replicate last year's and arrests will be up to the Legislature's police.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Barber said,"Speaker Thom Tillis and the extremists he leads are attempting to undermine, stifle and stop the voice of the people."
Barber said that courts would uphold the North Carolina Constitution, which states, "The people have a right to assemble together to consult for their common good, to instruct their representatives, and to apply to the General Assembly for redress of grievances."
Barber said the new rules violate the First Amendment rights to free speech and are "highly offensive and prejudicial to African Americans, minorities, women, the poor, LGBT people and faith communities who have been historically criticized for being abnormal to the so-called mainstream of our country whenever they have chosen to protest."
Barber was not among the ministers who visited with Gov. Pat McCrory Thursday. A McCrory spokesman said Barber was invited but declined to attend, and the governor's office released a guest list with Barber's name on it.
“On May 8th, the governor’s chief of staff, Thomas Stith, spoke directly with Rev. Barber and invited him to attend today’s lunch meeting with clergy," spokesman Josh Ellis said in a statement. "The governor arranged this meeting to continue reaching out to various individual groups including members of the business, clergy and education community. Rev. Barber said that he couldn’t come because of a conflict in his schedule. We’re unclear why he’s trying to mischaracterize his absence.”
But the NAACP released a statement saying McCrory and his staff were spreading "false information."
Barber said he got a call last week from the Governor's office about a possible luncheon.
"I said it might be possible if I could bring other clergy leaders from the Forward Together Movement with me," Barber said in a statement. "I was told the governor decided his own list. I was also told the luncheon may or may not occur. I have not heard anything from his office since.
"I now learn a luncheon apparently took place and that the Governor's office has apparently said I declined his invitation."
Between April and July 2013, State Capitol Police spent more than $22,000 covering the protests. That is in addition to more than $43,000 by the Wake County Sheriff's Office and more than $69,000 by the Raleigh Police.
Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said the department's expenditures included officers working in three capacities: regular, on-duty status; overtime status; and compensatory time status.
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