E-Net News

Legislative updates - 2015

This page will be updated periodically with the status of bills currently in the General Assembly that could affect government transparency. The General Assembly has created seven new records exemptions so far. 

During the 2015 General Assembly long session we will use this page to keep track of bills that could affect government transparency in North Carolina. We've collected the following bills, but we make no claim that the list is exhaustive. If we've missed one that you know about, send us an email at ncopengov@email.elon.edu and we'll add it to the list, which was last updated on August 20. 

Passed Into Law

Academic Standards Review CommissionSenate Bill 14 contains a requirement that the Academic Standards Review Commission place all of its meeting materials on its website and that all of its meetings be live streamed over the Internet. The Academic Standards Review Commission is a new body that began its work last fall and is tasked with reviewing Common Core standards in North Carolina. Senate Bill 14 passed both houses in February and emerged from conference committee in March. It was sent to the governor on April 1 and signed April 13. The law takes effect immediately. 

Child Maltreatment Registry Exemption: Senate Bill 578 requires the Department of Health and Human Services to create a "Child Maltreatment Registry" that catalogs the names of childcare providers who have been found to mistreat children in their care. Most of the information collected by the department in creating the registry would be exempt from the public records law. The names of the people in the registry would remain public. The bill passed the Senate in April and the House in June and was signed by the governor. It takes effect January 1, 2016. 

Abortion reporting exemptionHouse Bill 465 created a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. It also included some mandatory reporting requirements for physicians who perform the procedure after the 16th week of pregnancy. Those reports are specifically exempted from the public records law. The bill passed both houses and was signed into law by the governor in early June. The reporting requirements and the public records law exemption take effect January 1, 2016.

Maternal Mortality Review Committee exemptionHouse Bill 465 also included an unrelated provision that creates a Maternal Mortality Review Committee within the Department of Health and Human Services to review maternal deaths and make recommendations to reduce mortality. All records obtained or created by the committee are exempt from the public records law. The committee is also exempt from the open meetings law. The Maternal Mortality Review Committee section of the law takes effect December 1, 2015. 

Port Authority Usage ContractsSenate Bill 299 would create a new public records exemption for contracts entered into by the State Ports Authority for usage of its facilities. Originally introduced as Senate Bill 194, it was re-introduced in the Senate in March as Senate Bill 299. It passed the Senate in April and the House in June. It was sent to the governor on July 1. The law takes effect immediately.

Death Penalty Drug Exemption: When House Bill 774 cleared the House in April, it did not look like it would affect transparency. While in the Senate the bill picked up a new exemption from the Public Records Law. The Senate version would make secret the "name, address, qualifications, and other identifying information" of people or companies that make, sell, distribute or administer the drugs involved in executing a prisoner on death row. The House concurred with the Senate's version on July 29 and sent the bill to the governor. Gov. McCrory signed the law in August. It takes effect immediately. 

Alarm Registration ExemptionHouse Bill 797 will give cities and towns a new exemption from the Public Records Act for information collected as part of a local alarm registration program. The bill would make confidential the name, phone number, and personal identiifying information as well as "sensitive security information" about the alarm itself. The bill passed the House on April 27 and was sent to the Senate, which approved of it on July 29. Gov. McCrory signed the bill in August. It takes effect immediately. 

Law Enforcement Personnel Privacy Part I: The final version of Senate Bill 699 entirely exempts from examination and inspection the cellphone numbers issued to police officers, firefighters, and other first responders. It also exempts from disclosure, even within a department, any identifying information, such as a social security number, about an officer, their emergency contact information and their address. It also covers anyone who lives with the officer if disclosure would put the officer's safety at risk.  The bill does not extend so far as to exempt the names of sworn officers, though. It incoprates many of the provisions of House Bill 477, which is still pending in the Senate, and an earlier version of SB 699 that would have exempted officers identifying information, addresses and names, upon request. After several amendments were made in the House on Aug. 10, it was returned to the Senate, which concurred Aug. 12. Gov. McCory signed it on the 18th. The bill will take effect Oct. 1.

100-year-limit on Public Records ExemptionsHouse Bill 184 would set a 100-year cap on how long a public record exemption could apply. Any records still in existence 100 years after their creation would not be subject to any exemptions. The bill passed the House and was sent to the Senate on April 6. In July, the Senate passed the bill. Gov. McCrory signed it Aug. 18. It takes effect immediately. 

On the governor's desk

 There are no bills affecting transparency currently in front of Governor McCrory. 

Passed one chamber

Law Enforcement Personnel Privacy Part II: A revised version of House Bill 477 passed the House in the early morning hours of April 30. The new edition would exempt from public records government cell phone numbers issued to police officers, firefighters and other first responders. As originally proposed, along with its companion bill, Senate Bill 516, would have required government agencies to remove personal information about law enforcement officers from publicy accessible Internet databases upon request. Hard copies of the same information would have remained public records that could be copied or inspected. The Senate version has not advanced out of committee. The House version was amended on the House floor. 

Medical Board TransparencyHouse Bill 543 would make some changes to the N.C. Medical Board, which licenses doctors, nurses and physicians assistants.It would give a review panel that considers applicants the ability to receive additional confidential information. It would also create a broad exemption for records collected by the review panel about particular candidates. It also requires the review panel to post the names and practice addresses of all new applicants.The same bill makes explicit that the review panel is subject to the Open Meetings Law. It then gives the review panel an additional exemption from the open meetings law, that will allow it to meet behind closed doors to discuss applicants. The bill passed the House and was sent to the Senate on April 22. 

Police Body-Worn and Dashboard Camera Exemption: House Bill 713 would add a new section to the law enforcement exemption that clarifies body-worn camera and dashboard camera videos are subject to release notwithstanding privacy exemptions in the personnel statutes. It also gives police departments broad discretion to withhold videos even if they are not subject to another exemption, such as the criminal investigation exemption. It passed the House on April 23. 

Dead bills 

Assisted Suicide Records: House Bill 611 would authorize physician-assisted suicide in North Carolina and it would give the Department of Health and Human Services the responsibility to collect records related to such deaths. The bill would create a new exemption for those records. It was introduced in April and referred to the House Judiciary Committee. 

Behavior Analyst Exemption: House Bill 714 would create a licensing board for behavior analysts and would exempt many of the records that people seeking licensure shared with the board. The bill was introduced in April. 

Board of Nursing Exemption: Senate Bill 695 and its companion, House Bill 807, would revamp the Board of Nursing's disciplinary authority and create a broad exemption from the public records law for records collected during an investigation into a nurse. If the investigation leads to a disciplinary hearing, the statement of charges would remain public. It would also extend the law enforcement exemption of the public records law to the nursing board if the board's investigation reveals information about a possible crime. The Senate bill was referred to the Committee on Health Care in March. The House bill was introduced in April. 

Charter School DisclosuresHouse Bill 354 would further clarify what information about charter schools must be disclosed. It adds to disclosure requirements made by the General Assembly last year to include information about employees of contractors hired by charter schools to manage the schools. Basic information about contract company employees' experience, age and salary would be subject to disclosure. It was referred to the House Committee on Education - K-12 in March.  

Community Association Managers ExemptionSenate Bill 564 and its companion, House Bill 514, requires community association managers to obtain a license from the N.C. Real Estate Commission. Information collected by the commisssion as part of a licensure application would be exempt from the Public Records Law. The House version was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary IV in April. The Senate version was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate in March.

Complaints Against Elected Officials: House Bill 749 would make public complaints filed against any elected official during their term in office accusing the elected official of harassment, sexual harassment, or other unlawful conduct against another government employee. 

Digital Conversion of Paper RecordsSenate Bill 636 would require most public records to be converted to a digital format and stored electronically.The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations in March.  

Electric Cooperative Corporation Meetings: House Bill 808 would make meetings of electric coopeartive corporations open meetings, and require that notice be given along with an agenda. The board could go into closed session to discuss materials provided in confidence but would not abe able to make a final decision in closed session. The bill was introduced in April. 

Electronic Meetings Redefined: Senate Bill 203 is listed as a local bill, but it would redefine what constitutes an electronic meeting under the Open Meetings Law. The greatly expanded definition would allow for members of a public body to participate remotely, such as via video conference or tele conference, but it would also set limits on how that particpation occurs. It would require public access to electronic meetings and would remove the existing $25 fee that governments can charge for technology related to providing public access. The bill was filed in March and referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations. 

Environmental self-reportingSenate Bill 453 is a regulatory reform bill that contains a section on violations of environmental laws. It would provide civil and criminal immunity to companies that self-report certain violations. The bill makes clear that self-reports of violations would be subject to the Public Records Law. The bill was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate in March

Fracking chemcials disclosure: House Bill 733 would require oil and gas drilling companies to disclose to the Mining and Energy Commission what chemicals are used in the hydraulic fracturing process, commonly called fracking. Those records would be public records. The law authorizing fracking in North Carolina, which took effect last year, makes those records confidential. The bill was filed in April. 

Health Benefits Authority Transparency RequirementsSenate Bill 696 and its companion, House Bill 525, would create a Health Benefits Authority within the Department of Health and Human Services to manage Medicaid. Its board would be subject to the open meetings law, but it would be given some additional exemptions to meet in closed session. The records of those closed sessions would not become public until the board otherwise makes public the related information through publishing of a report, audit, rate or report to the General Assembly. The Senate version was referred to the Committee on Health Care in March. The House version  was referred to the Committe on Health in April. 

Joint Committee to Study TransparencyHouse Bill 499 would create a joint legislative study commission on public records and open meetings in North Carolina. The committee would "study ways to improve transparency of State and local government in North Carolina." It's 10 members would be appointed by Speaker of the House Tim Moore and by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. The committee would report back to General Assembly at the start of the 2016 short session. It would report a second time, with legislative suggestions, before the current General Assembly's term ends next year.The bill was referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House in April. 

Lottery Winners Exemption: House Bill 30 would create a new exemption to the public records law for lottery winners, allowing them to remain anonymous. It was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary in February. 

Maternal Death Review Exemption: Senate Bill 302 would create a Maternal Mortality Review Committee to study deaths of women during or shortly after pregnancy. The committee would be exempt from both the Open Meetings Law and the Public Records Act. The bill was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate in March. 

Medical Marijuana Exemption: House Bill 78 would have created a regulatory scheme for medical marijuana in North Carolina and it included several exemptions to the public records law for people who received permission to purchase medical marijuana. The bill was reported unfavorably out of committee in March. 

Naturopathic Doctors Exemption: Senate Bill 18 and its companion, House Bill 913would create a new Naturopathic Doctors Licensing Board to license and regulate the practice of naturopathic medicine, a type of alternative medicine that includes homeopathy, herbalism and acupuncture. Some materials held by the board, including applications, complaints and discipline of licensees would be exempt from the public records law. The Senate bill was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate in February, and it moved to the Committee on Health Care in April. The House bill was referred to the Committee on Health Care. 

Pawn Brokers Database ExemptionSenate Bill 432 require pawn brokers and metal dealers to enter information about their transactions into a new electronic database maintained by the Office of Information Technology Services. The database would then be accessible by law enforcement agencies. The database would be exempt from the public records law. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations in March. 

Planning Meetings of Three-Member Public Bodies: House Bill 835 would allow a majority of members of public bodies that only have three members to meet for purposes of a "planning meeting" to discuss upcoming "official meetings" as long as the planning meeting wasn't an attempt to evade the Open Meetings Law and notes are kept. The notes would be public records. The bill was filed in April and referred to the Judiciary Committee.  

Private Security Medical Disclosure ExemptionHouse Bill 299 would create a new exemption for medical information shared by private protective service licensees during their renewal process with the state. The bill was referred to the House Committe on Judiciary II in March.  

Public Records Ownership: Senate Bill 553 would make significant changes to the public records law. It would redefine who owns North Carolina public records from "the people" to "citizens of this State." It would also limit who could request access to records to "citizens of this State" instead of the "any person" standard currently in the law. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations in March. 

Public School Teacher Endowment Fund: Senate Bill 344 would create an endowment fund to administer performance bonuses to public school teachers who excel in their work. The fund would be managed by a non-profit corporation. The bill would require that non-profit to be subject to the public records and open meetings laws. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriations in March. 

Required Disclosures on Government Websites: Senate Bill 633, titled the State and Local Government Transparency Act, would require governments that have a website to disclose a laundry list of items on those websites. It would require the governments to post phone numbers and email addresses for all elected officials, chief administrator, department heads and public records administrator. It would also require posting of meeting notices, public records procedures, annual budgets, expenditures, employee salaries, tax incentives and contracts of $25,000 or more. The records for the four most recent years would have to be kept on the website. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations in March. 

Seniors Fraud Protection ActSenate Bill 653 would require the Attorney General's Office to create a database for financial institutions to report suspected fraud committed against the elderly. The database would be exempt from the public records law. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations in March. 

Jonathan Jones,
Staff
4/7/2015 11:00 AM