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Access to public records constitutional amendment proposed

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(The Center Square) – Democrats in North Carolina’s General Assembly are running legislation in both chambers to establish the right of access to public records and meetings as an amendment to the state constitution.

On his Facebook page, Sen. Dan Blue of Wake County wrote, “You can’t let the fox guard the hen house unless you just want to see feathers at the end of the day.”

He’s been a state senator for seven-plus terms since 2009, and was a House member for 13-plus terms before that from 1981-2002 and 2006-2009.

“Public records belong to the public,” Rep. Lindsey Prather, D-Buncombe, a sponsor in the House of Representatives, wrote on social media.

Senate Bill 911 and House Bill 1075 were each introduced and immediately sent to the respective rules committees of each Republican-majority chamber. Each proposal was without a GOP sponsor.

The language of each chamber’s bill was identical and added a new Section 1 to Article I of the North Carolina Constitution. Backers of the legislation would like to get it in front of voters on Nov. 5, with a “for” or “against” vote on “Constitutional amendment establishing the right of access to public records and meetings.”

In the tardy passage last fall of the state’s two-year budget, Section 27.9 on page 531 gave custodians of public records in the Legislative Building – commonly referred to as “The People’s House” – the authority to “retain, destroy, sell, loan, or otherwise dispose of, such records.” Lawmakers also removed another section of the law requiring lawmakers to reveal documents and communications related to the redistricting process.

Defenders of the public’s access in opposition were led by the North Carolina Press Association, North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, the Carolina Journal and Radio One Charlotte.

North Carolina Public Records Law is in Chapter 132 of the General Statutes. In addition to the U.S. Constitution’s right to access court files and court proceedings, the state constitution provides open courts in Article I, and General Statute 7A-109 specifies that court records are public records.

The open meetings law applies to all elected or appointed bodies with two or more members that exercise virtually any governmental function, including advice or oversight. It also applies to committees of public bodies.

S911 is sponsored by Sen. Graig Meyer, D-Orange; Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake; Sen. Gale Adcock, D-Wake; Sen. Val Applewhite, D-Cumberland; Sen. Sydney Batch, D-Wake; Sen. Mary Wills Bode, D-Granville; Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg; Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, D-Mecklenburg; Sen. Natalie Murdock, D-Durham; Sen. DeAndrea Salvador, D-Mecklenburg; and Sen. Kandie Smith, D-Pitt.

HB1075, in addition to Prather, is sponsored by Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford; Rep. Diamond Staton-Williams, D-Cabarrus; Rep. Tim Longest, D-Wake; Rep. Cynthia Ball, D-Wake; and Rep. Nasif Majeed, D-Mecklenburg.

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