Editorial: Legislature goes too far with new budget

Published 9:54 am Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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North Carolina has a new budget. That’s good.

What isn’t good is the number of add ons at the end, add ons that left little time for debate.

One is close to our hearts: the public’s right to know.

The Republican-led budget enacted at the last minute a new law that gives the custodian of General Assembly records the authority to decide if it should become a public record, or trashed for eternity, or get this, sold.

All correspondence and deliberations by the General Assembly – eventually – should be a public record. There may be an occasional need to delay the release of certain records, but in the end, they should all be public.

That could mean a constituent’s correspondence citing concerns or pointing out potential wrongdoing to a legislator could be kept from public disclosure.

It also could mean prohibiting the public disclosure of legislators’ emails — often the subject of public records and Freedom of Information Act requests to reveal details and comments on potentially contentious public issues.

Both are troubling.

And while the Republicans are, and likely will be in the near future, in control of the General Assembly, it makes you wonder what they’re trying to hide. If the Democrats ever gain control of the General Assembly in North Carolina again, which is possible, they, too, would have this control over what the public knows about how they do business.

Neither party deserves that kind of power.

“This new provision appears to be the legislature entirely exempting themselves from the public records law and the archiving process that has retained government records throughout the state’s history,” said Schorr Johnson, communications director for the state’s department of natural and cultural resources.

Well said.

– Mike Barnhardt