North Carolina lawmakers confident new session will start safely so they can get to work

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- A new year, a new session, and sadly, a new reality.

The North Carolina General Assembly will gavel in for its new biennium session on Wednesday, one week to the day since the tragic riot that put America's enduring symbol of government under assault. It also comes as an FBI bulletin issued Monday warns of armed protests planned at all 50 state capitals ahead of the Biden inauguration.

"I feel very safe in the building," Senate President Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), told ABC11 on Tuesday. "I am hearing rumors about some demonstrations that may take place, but at this point I have not heard of a specific threat. In order to get in, you have to go through a scan, you can't bring certain items, weapons or anything like that. We've got a fairly good setup in the building."

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.

"I know the police will use their very best efforts to ensure the safety of everyone," Rep. Deb Butler (D-Wilmington) said about her security briefings. "If there's anything we've learned, it's not to take anything for granted these days and to ask the tough questions and be persistent. That's what we intend to do."

Aside from tactical strategies, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are promising to tone down the rhetoric and set an example for healthy policy debates.

"Many members of our society have lost the art of critical thinking," Butler, a leading Democrat in the House, said. "Society takes cues from us and it's a very important responsibility."

Berger, who as Senate President helps set the legislative agenda, agreed.

"I think people in a leadership position need to be cognizant of the impact of their words and actions and there are people out there who will take things literally when they should be taken figuratively."
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