Metal detectors and x-ray machines are being installed at the entrances to the Legislative Building this week, part of an effort to heighten security around the General Assembly.
Lobbyists, journalists and members of the public will soon be required to pass through the security screening each time they enter the building, while a separate entry process will allow legislators and staff to bypass the lines. The change doesn't affect the entrances to the Legislative Office Building.
Legislative Building officials had been tight-lipped about the security changes, but on Friday a news release from Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble confirmed the plan, and the machines showed up Monday.
"Our goal is to make the building safe for all who have business with the General Assembly, as well as for the members, staff, press and citizens of the State of North Carolina," the news release said.
In an interview with the Insider, Coble said he's not yet sure when the security screenings will begin, because installation of the equipment is requiring extensive electrical work in the 55-year-old building.
Coble says the legislature has hired security screeners, most of whom aren't sworn law enforcement officers, to work with the General Assembly Police Department in running the screenings. Between the equipment, electrical upgrades and additional staff, Coble says the estimated budget for security upgrades is around $1.2 million to $1.3 million.
Until now, security at the legislature has differed from other state government buildings such as the Capitol building. Anyone can walk in the front and rear entrances during business hours, and while police officers constantly monitor the entrances, there's no screening process.
The coming change has prompted concerns from some who worry that long lines — particularly when large school groups visit — will delay people from entering the building. "Just when you thought a day at the #NCGA couldn't get worse," tweeted Kevin Rogers of the advocacy group Action NC. Others on Twitter, however, said the extra security is needed due to potential threats to public buildings.
"We do have some ways that we can help mitigate that," Coble said of the potential for lines. "Will we eliminate them? No."
The Rev. William J. Barber II, the former state NAACP head and architect of the Moral Monday movement that brought weekly protests to the Legislative Building, said metal detectors would not deter protesters who engaged in nonviolent demonstrations.
Barber, though, contrasted the security measures for lawmakers' workplace with their resistance to gun control.
"Metal detectors have their place," he said, "but it is hypocrisy to say you care about safety and put in metal detectors on the one hand but then refuse to pass stricter gun laws and ban assault weapons."
Legislative staff studied the level of traffic at the two entrances as plans were drawn up. "We were getting a constant flow all day long," Coble said, but he noted that foot traffic picks up when large committee meetings wrap up in the Legislative Office Building. "The times we know when we'll have challenges when people are in the LOB (Legislative Office Building) and going back to the LB."
For now, visitors won't notice any changes at the two LOB entrances. "Will we ever do it? That remains to be seen," Coble said. "We wanted to start here and see how that would work."
The parking garage on the bottom floor of the Legislative Building is also getting beefed-up security. New gates are being installed at the vehicle entrances that will be down throughout the day — replacing guard stations where someone checked IDs. New bollards will also help prevent unauthorized vehicles from getting into the garage. The garage entrances will still have pedestrian entrances, but only legislators and staff will be allowed to use them, Coble said.