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RALEIGH, NC (AP) — House Speaker Thom Tillis is defending payments to two high-level staff members who resigned because of inappropriate relationships with lobbyists.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that payments totaled more than $19,000 and went to former chief of staff Charles Thomas and former policy adviser Amy Hobbs.

Tillis said in a statement Thursday that Thomas worked without pay and didn’t accept state health insurance for him and his family in December 2010 and January 2011. That was the transition period as Tillis prepared to be the next speaker following Republican legislative victories in November 2010. Tillis said Hobbs also worked without pay in January 2011.

Tillis said the two also accepted salaries below their peers in state government in early 2011 as they worked to facilitate an efficient session that year.

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