The special N.C. legislative session that convened Thursday didn't feature another sneaky, post-midnight vote on controversial legislation, making a mockery of transparency in government and the public's right to know. But House Speaker Thom Tillis still managed to shunt the public aside last week with another ill-advised move.
With about 50 people lined up peacefully Thursday in the second-floor hallway outside his office in the Legislative Building in protest of last month's late-night folly, Tillis's legislative staff called the General Assembly's police to have them removed. The police quoted an obscure rule adopted in 1987 by the now-defunct Legislative Services Commission.
The rule reads in part: "Individuals and groups of visitors who come to the state Legislative Building for the purpose of viewing the building and observing the sessions ... shall not visit the second floor of the building." It further states that legislative staff can ask visitors on the second floor - where the House and Senate chambers and top lawmakers offices are located - to leave if requested.
Obviously, Tillis' office had a right to do what they did. In response to questions, Tillis said he defers to police on security matters. "If you look at this building ... (it's) considered one of the most exposed legislatures in the United States. We have to take steps to protect them (legislators). That's ultimately my job."
But Jeff Weaver, the General Assembly police chief, didn't appear to have security concerns. He said the police intervened only because Tillis' office asked them to. He called the rule outdated and unenforced.
"Visitors are always on the second floor," he told the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
Apparently, the group had piqued Tillis and his staff. They had been protesting outside the building earlier, decrying the legislature's maneuvering last month to end a voluntary dues check-off for teachers who are members of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
We decried the maneuvering too. Tillis reconvened the House after midnight, after Republicans couldn't scrounge up enough votes to overturn Gov. Bev. Perdue's veto of a different bill. We called the move unethical, if not unconstitutional. The NCAE has sued, and a judge has blocked the dues-checkoff legislation until the matter can be heard in court.
A lot of people are now decrying the ejection of peaceful protesters from the second-floor hallway. Some point out aptly that invoking such an obscure rule against members of the public who disagree with lawmakers sends the wrong message.
Lawmakers should be open to hearing all voices, not just some. We elect them to work for all of us.