We support measure to strengthen public records laws

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A North Carolina House bill that has passed first reading could lead to a constitutional amendment that would further protect citizens’ rights to public information.

House Bill 87, whose primary sponsors are Reps. Stephen A. LaRoque, R-Kinston, and Tim Moore, R-Kings Mountain, was filed earlier this month and passed first reading Monday. The bill aims to amend the state constitution to protect the public’s right to know.

HB 87 has been sent to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House. A companion bill is expected to be filed by Sen. Debbie A. Clary, R-Shelby, in the Senate soon, according to the North Carolina Press Association.

HB 87 would guarantee everyone has the right to inspect and copy public records, and attend all public body meetings, except as exempted by the General Assembly. 

It also would require a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the General Assembly to pass any bill that would reduce the current level of access to public records and meetings.

If the measure passes both the House and Senate, it could go on to a statewide referendum in 2012. California and Florida have already passed similar measures.

It seems as if every time the legislature in Raleigh changes, North Carolina public records and open meeting laws come under attack. If that were to continue, we fear it would be increasingly difficult for members of the public to access what’s rightfully theirs.

Further, it would make it difficult for us to do what we need to do—protect the public’s right to know. When we look back on difficulties we already faced to bring you stories—such as the hiring debacle of former Calabash administrator Jeremy Cribb and most recently the dismissal of DSS Director Jamie Orrock and all things DSS-related—we feel more at ease knowing a constitutional amendment would further solidify the public’s right to know.

We join the North Carolina Press Association and its other member newspapers in support of this measure. We think the more that can be done to make it more difficult for gatekeepers to withhold information from the public, the better we are.

Keep your eye on HB 87 and look for a Senate version soon. Encourage your senators and representatives to support laws that protect the public’s right to know, and when it makes its way to a referendum, vote in support of making this change to the constitution.