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Increased public records restriction under consideration

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(The Center Square)—Legislation under review Tuesday in North Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee could increase restrictions on public records.

Language in a bill that includes a section on autopsies would add those reports from the state’s chief medical examiner to an exemption list, if they are part of an unsolved crime investigation file. Once solved or prosecution complete, access could be granted.

Inspection of the documents while a case is unsolved or prosecution is yet to be completed would also be restricted from public view, reversing a state law. The documents can’t be copied but can be viewed.

Answering a question from Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, D-Mecklenburg, the discretion of a prosecutor to be with them while viewing photos would be permitted, said committee Chairman Danny Britt, R-Robeson.

House Bill 250 has the support of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

The public records change proposal follows last fall’s lightning rod decision by the Legislature.

Section 27.9 on page 531 of the biennial budget gives 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 law that required lawmakers to reveal documents and communications related to the redistricting process.

Britt is a defense attorney and former prosecutor. No vote was taken, and he said afterward that the language of the bill may need further adjustment.

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