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A group of North Carolina senators wants to keep government information in the hands of Tar Heels, and not those from outside the state.

Senate Bill 553, filed Thursday by Republican state Sen. Warren Daniel, aims to limit access to public records to North Carolina residents. Currently, state law allows for anyone to request records from any state or local government agency, regardless of their residence.

N.C. Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Morganton

Daniel said he filed the bill after local governments in his area received extensive records requests from out-of-state companies asking for vendor lists and other documents.

“They take up staff time and cost local government money,” said Daniel, a Morganton attorney. He added, “Why should local governments be spending time and money satisfying the curiosities of people that don’t live here in the state?”

In a 2013 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case out of Virginia that states could stop non-residents from using public records laws to access information. Other states with in-state restrictions for public records include Alabama, Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Tennessee, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Co-sponsors of the North Carolina bill include state Sen. Andrew Brock, Brent Jackson and Joyce Krawiec, all Republicans.

Brock also filed a government transparency bill, SB 633, on Thursday that would require every state and local government agency to publish on its website contact information for elected officials, procedures for requesting public records, all taxes and fees, salaries of all employees, detailed lists of purchases, contracts over $25,000 and other information.

S553v0 by NC Policy Watch

 

Commentary

In case you missed them over the weekend, there were at least two worth-your-time reads that raised more questions about the openness and transparency of a Governor who had promised to set new standards in those areas.

Number One is a fine essay by Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled “McCrory’s blind spot on ethics.” In it, Barnett rightfully takes the Governor to task for the yawning gap between some of his previous campaign rhetoric and the performance of his administration. Here are some excerpts:

“In his first run for governor in 2008, Pat McCrory fixed on a theme that would prove successful in his second try in 2012. He ran against what he considered the cloaked and unethical conduct of Democrats too long in power….

Now, in the third year of his first term, the words and theme of candidate McCrory have an odd resonance. There’s no evidence that Gov. McCrory has abused his powers, but there is also no evidence that he’s doing much to prevent abuses or dispel the appearance of potential abuses. This ‘reform’ governor is strangely cavalier when it comes to situations that raise ethical questions.”

After reviewing a long list a McCrory ethical lapses, Barnett puts it this way:

“McCrory says he’s getting tripped up because he has been in business rather than being exclusively a public servant. But it hardly seems a case of good-government sticklers picking on private-sector Pat. Rather, McCrory has made a living by mingling his public and private roles and now seems oblivious as to where one ends and the other begins.” (Emphasis supplied.)

Number Two is a brief AP news story in the Fayetteville Observer yesterday entitled “McCrory record seekers met with delays, demands for payments.” As the story reports: Read More

News

A state Senator who previously chaired the N.C. State Port Authority wants to make contracts the state port authority enters into with carriers a secret.

If passed, the bill would carve out an exemption to the state public records law for “usage” contracts the state port enters into with carriers. The contracts generally detail the costs paid to the state for docking, handling cargo, storage and other services.

NCPorts

Photo from N.C. Ports Authority

Senate Bill 194 was introduced by state Sen. Michael Lee, a freshman Republican from Wilmington, and has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Lee, who chaired the State Ports Authority before joining the legislature, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

North Carolina’s public records law defines nearly all the documents, emails, and contracts that public agencies enter into as belonging to the public, and available for public inspection upon request. There are exceptions to the law, and records used by law enforcement for criminal investigations, personnel files, personally identifying information like social security numbers and plans for economic development are frequently not disclosed.

The publicly owned and operated State Port Authority is under the state transportation department, and overseen by an 11-member board. It operates deep water operations in Morehead City and Wilmington, and inland ports in Charlotte and Greensboro, according to a 2013 audit of the port.

A private marina in Southport that the state owns was recently put up for sale by the port authority, according to the Wilmington Star-News.

The N.C. State Ports Authority did not initiate a request for the pending bill about public record exemptions, said Cliff Pyron, a spokesman for the state-owned port.

But keeping the information secret would be beneficial , he said.

“It’s just needed for competitive reasons,” Pyron said.

Other ports on the Eastern seaboard exempt that information from the public record laws, Pyron said, referencing to a recent study conducted for the State Port Authority. Pyron said he did not know what specific states shield that information.

N.C. Policy Watch asked Wednesday for a copy of that report under the state public records law, but it was not immediately made available.

Pyron also indicated that, if the bill passes, the public could access other information at the state port – just not the contracts the state enters into with carriers.

“This is only a very small section of our contracts and only ones that deal with specific ports services,” Pyron wrote in an email. “The overwhelming majority of our contracts—including construction, purchasing, consulting services, etc.-will remain available to the public.”

Uncategorized

As Chris Fitzsimon noted this morning, the lack of sunlight and opportunity for public input on a new round of tax cuts currently under construction in the state Senate is truly outrageous.

Now there’s more news on the black hole that is the Senate in this story by Mark Binker at WRAL.com entitled: “Crucial legislation can be crafted behind closed doors.”

As Binker reports, Senate Republicans are literally drafting the state budget behind closed doors with literally no opportunity for public input: Read More

Uncategorized

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.

N.C. Sen. Rick Gunn

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.”