Shooting exposes vulnerabilities for federal and state lawmakers

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Security at the North Carolina General Assembly was higher after Wednesday's attack in Virginia.

The attempt to shoot and kill US congressmen on Wednesday provoked many questions about security protocols for members of the Legislative Branch, whose detail does not match that of the Chief Executive.

On the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security costs taxpayers $62 billion to protect our borders, ports, presidents, their families, and any visiting foreign dignitaries.

Of the 535 members of the United States Congress, however, only the leading members of the House and Senate receive the same kind of 24/7 attention: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Texas), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), Senate President Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durban (D-Illinois).

The United States Capitol Police, which works together with the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms, protects all members of Congress and safeguards the Capitol - as well as the myriad staffers, lobbyists and tourists on the premises.

"In my own personal opinion, we don't need to change what we do dramatically," former Rep. Robin Hayes (R-North Carolina) told ABC11. "All of us are involved and can play a part in demanding that [politics] be a positive process and not just a contact sport."

Hayes, the current chair of the NC GOP, was elected to five terms in Congress and served from 1999-2009. He explained how outside the Capitol he received the same security as anyone else traveling between North Carolina and Washington, D.C. If he wanted extra security at a town hall meeting or campaign event, his staff would coordinate - and pay for - coverage from a local police or sheriff's department.

Still, the Wednesday's shooting exposed how vulnerable those leaders can be outside the Capitol, but Hayes cautions changing the status quo.

"If we live in a state of fear and concern, it threatens a free and open society."

On the state level, only Governor Roy Cooper is afforded full-time security detail that's provided by the North Carolina Highway Patrol. The North Carolina Capitol Police, with a budget of $5 million and a staff of about 60 officers, safeguards all state government buildings within Wake County.

The Legislature has its own security force, the General Assembly Police Department, which has jurisdiction to operate within the I-440 beltline, but is also empowered to investigate threats to lawmakers throughout the state.

Chief Martin Brock, who first joined the GAPD 18 years ago, explained to ABC11 investigators flag suspicious emails and calls almost every day. "They could be anything from 'I hope your house burns down' and we've seen some language 'I'll dance on your grave,'" Brock said.

Unlike Congress, NCGA leaders like Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) or Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake County) do not have any security outside the General Assembly. Under the House and Senate rules, lawmakers are entitled to request a GAPD security detail in a viable threatening situation or for public appearances - at a cost.

"If there's an official request, such as a town hall meeting of a redistricting committee meeting, we'll accompany that member," Brock added.

The GAPD also works closely with the House and Senate Rules Committee chairmen, which determine security protocols for each legislative session.

According to Brock and House Rules Chairman David Lewis (R-Harnett County), they are constantly working on security plans and, without elaborating, confirmed heightened security measures in light of the Virginia shooting.

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