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Raleigh, N.C. — House lawmakers amended their chamber rules this morning in response to an incident earlier this month in which five Democratic lawmakers delivered a petition to Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and took pictures in his office while neither the Republican nor his staff were present.
The measure, put forward by Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, surfaced yesterday. It was approved by the House Rules Committee Wednesday and then approved by the full chamber Thursday morning with little debate.
"Once the office space is assigned to a member, that office space is private to the member," reads the rule. "No individual, other than a joint legislative employee of the General Assembly, may enter the area containing the member's desk and work area without permission of that member or that member's designee if that area is unattended."
... Legislative sources told WRAL that the measure responded to a July 8 incident during which Reps. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg, Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, Evelyn Terry, D-Forsyth and a lobbyist with Planned Parenthood delivered a petition to Tillis' office. The petition objected to pending abortion legislation. ...
At the time, Tillis was not in his office, nor were any of his legislative staff members. The women went passed the outer office, through an inner-office door and went into his inner office, which contains a private work area.
Once there, they deposited the petition on his desk and took pictures. Among those pictures was a detail shot of Tillis' desk that showed both the petitions and personal items sitting on the desk.
Those pictures disturbed Republicans, who viewed the incident as a breach of decorum. ...
Fisher acknowledged that the petition delivery sparked the new rule but said they did nothing wrong.
"I had no idea it would cause such consternation," Fisher said, adding that she objected to how the incident was being portrayed.
"No doors were shut," she said, referencing online chatter that says she "broke into" the speaker's office.
"My goal was to make sure the voice of my constituents were acknowledged," she said. "If that's the only way they'll be acknowledged, that's sad."