Protests underway in Raleigh, dozens arrested as NCGA continues special session

Published: Dec. 16, 2016 at 5:53 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 16, 2016 at 6:18 PM EST
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RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) - Another day of protests are underway in Raleigh as lawmakers headed back to the General Assembly to continue their special session.

Protests broke out just after 11 a.m., after which House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) called for the Sergeant at Arms to empty the gallery.

People chanted "All political power comes from the people!" which disrupted the session for several minutes.

The session continued following the brief interruption by demonstrators, who could still be heard from outside the House chambers chanting, "Our house!"

Arrests began shortly after the interruption. As of noon, at least 15 protesters were arrested Friday.

At least 17 protesters were arrested on Thursday during demonstrations against the actions that have been taken during the special legislative sessions.

CLICK HERE to see those arrested Thursday

Friday, elected officials took action on several bills that some believe are Republican attempts to take power away from Governor-elect Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

The first action of the day began at 8:30 a.m. when House members of the Finance Committee met to discuss Senate Bill 4. That bill seeks to create what lawmakers say is an eight-member "bi-partisan State Board of Elections and ethics enforcement." The bill would also make the seats for the N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals partisan.

That bill passed just before 8:30 a.m.

The bill was then sent to the House where it passed right at noon.

The actions already taken by the Republican majority in the General Assembly has riled up many people.

Demonstrators spent hours on Thursday holding signs and chanting at elected officials, asking them to remember who put them in their seats in the first place.

Lawmakers have not only approved measures for Hurricane Matthew and wildfire relief, but have also approved bills that could seriously limit Cooper's powers. A special session was originally called so that relief bills could be passed. Republicans then announced a surprise special session.

Protesters and a majority of Democrats have said that SB4 seeks to weaken Cooper's abilities and give Republicans an advantage.

The House also approved a measure that makes Cooper's cabinet choices subject to Senate confirmation.

Also on Friday, the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee heard arguments for and against House Bill 17, which would modify powers of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and appointments of the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina system.

That measure passed the committee and is now headed to the full Senate.

Sen. Chad Barefoot, who represents parts of Franklin and Wake counties, said HB17 is a way to restore constitutional power.

"Basically what we're doing is we're restoring the constitutional power to the trustee system of the University to the statewide elected head of the Department of Public Instruction that was taken from them," he said.

Some Republican lawmakers said that if the choices being made by legislators aren't popular with the voters – too bad.

"There's always going to be criticism and I thoroughly expect that from people who don't support what we're trying to do," said Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston).

Democrats disagree with Torbett.

Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat representing parts of Halifax, Nash, Vance, Warren and Wilson counties called the legislation being discussed, "A partisan power grab and swift of duties."

She added that more important than that to her, the legislation "…disrespect[s] the voters of North Carolina."

Cooper has said he'll be taking a closer look at the bills and would consider taking the General Assembly to court.

The Senate convened at 12:30 p.m. More action is expected to be taken.