A reporter’s recorder was confiscated Tuesday at the state legislature, after a state senator announced that all recording devices had to be registered in order to be used at the public meeting.
Commerce committee chairman state Sen. Rick Gunn, a Burlington Republican, made an announcement at the meeting that all recording equipment had to be registered with the legislature’s sergeant-at-arms staff.
The committee, held in a packed committee hearing room where audio is not automatically streamed for the public, was in the midst of hearing about “fracking,” the controversial process to extract natural gas from the earth.
One reporter, N.C. Health News Editor Rose Hoban, then had her audio recorder seized by the sergeant-at-arms after Gunn made his comments.
“’Did you have it registered?,’” Hoban said she was asked when she inquired where her recorder was.
Hoban, who has covered the legislature for several years, said she has never been asked previously to register audio equipment. The state open meetings law specifically allows recordings of public proceedings, finding that “any person may photograph, film, tape-record, or otherwise reproduce any part of a meeting required to be open.”
Gunn reversed himself halfway through the meeting, after word about his ban had been reported on Twitter.
“I rescind my comment about the recording equipment,” he said.
Gunn would not answer questions posed by N.C .Policy Watch after the meeting, and walked away from reporters questioning him about his comments.
The state legislative passed new rules last week about how the public can access the legislative building, a reaction to the weekly arrests at the Moral Monday protests last year by those upset over the agenda of conservative Republican leaders. Democrats have said the new rules are designed to discourage the protests, while Republican leaders say the rules offer clarification requested by judges in the wake of the arrests.
The new rules open up public access on the second floor of the building, where several legislative leaders have offices, and also define singing, clapping, shouting and using a bullhorn as potential “disturbances” that could mean ejection from the building.
Phillip King, the sergeant-at-arms for the state Senate, said Tuesday afternoon he would get clarification on what the rules regarding recordings are, but as of Wednesday morning he had not offered any further information.
He did say some at the legislature have been worried recorders are being left in rooms to record candid, and potentially embarrassing, conversations. King said his staff found multiple audio recorders last session and at committee meetings held in the interim that have never been claimed.
“Had we not picked it (a recorder) up and it had recorded some off-to-the cuff comments that were not meant for the public, at non-public meetings,” King said, “it could have been bad for whomever was in the room.”