One of the items in the state budget bill that slipped through without much discussion exempts state legislators from the North Carolina Public Records Law.
That law, North Carolina General Statute 132-1(b), states, “The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law …”
But that law no longer applies to the records of legislators. According to the new law, state legislators are given the sole discretion to determine if a record in their possession is a public record and therefore subject to the public records law.
North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who is running for governor in the Republican primary, issued a press release strongly objecting to this move toward more secrecy in government.
Folwell, before first being elected state treasurer in 2016, served in the state House for 8 years, so he is familiar with the type of records legislators might not want the public to see.
Folwell said, “As State Treasurer, keeper of the public purse and recipient of the N.C. Open Government Coalition’s Sunshine Award, I feel strongly that restricting public access to important public information reduces confidence in all levels of government, which is already at historical lows. It matters because in so many ways our society is at a crossroads, trying to decide whether to unite or divide. Answering the whys and hows that legislation is written is more important than ever. By allowing individual lawmakers to determine what records are public and what material can be destroyed without ever seeing the sunshine of public view creates a system without standards or accountability. It prevents the public from learning who and what influenced decision-making on their behalf. There shouldn’t be a double standard of justice where the legislature doesn’t live by laws that other state and local governments do concerning the right to have access to the records of public agencies.”
Folwell added, “I don’t need a law to tell me what’s right or wrong, and that’s true yesterday, today and tomorrow. We will continue to have a culture of conservatism, common sense, courtesy and open communications as keepers of the public purse.”