Legislative updates - 2016
With the General Assembly back in Raleigh for the biannual short session, the legislature is once again considering bills that would effect government transparency. So far they've passed four new exemptions to the Public Records Law, including one for body-worn camera and dash camera video collected by law enforcement.
So far the General Assembly has passed four new exemptions, two of which are awaiting Gov. Pat McCrory's signature and one is stuck in conference committee. Here's a quick rundown.
Signed into law:
State Controller background checks exemption: House Bill 970 and Senate Bill 741 would add the Office of the State Controller to the litany of agencies in Chapter 13, Subpart D of the Executive Organization Act on which the Department of Public Safety would run criminal background checks of employees. The results of those checks would be exempt from the Public Records Law. House Bill 970 passed both chambers and was signed into law by Gov. McCrory on June 22. It took effect immediately.
On the Governor's Desk:
Driver's email addresses exemption: House Bill 959 and Senate Bill 723 would add email addresses collected by the Division of Motor Vehicles to the list of personal information that is not subject to disclosure. Most personal information collected by the DMV is protected by the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act. House Bill 959 passed through both houses and was presented to the governor on July 1, 2016. If signed, it will take effect Oct. 1, 2016.
Police video exemption: House Bill 972 would exempt police body-worn camera and dash camera video from the Public Records Law. It would create a limited right of access for people who are captured on those videos to see the portions involving them, but police administrators would ultimately make the decision on what, if any portions, to show them. If the police administrators decline to show a portion of the video, they would have to provide that to the person in writing. It also creates a mechanism where people could seek release of specific videos from a court. The bill was presented to the governor on June 30. It would take effect Oct. 1, 2016.
In Conference Committee:
Providing Public Records Inspection Online: House Bill 593 is a large technical corrections bill. Buried in Section 18 is a provision that would amend the rules for government agencies to provide access to public records. It would allow agencies to provide copies or inspections via the Internet. It appears that if an agency chooses to make records available that way, the agency would be permitted to choose the format in which it provides the records. Under existing law, the records requester is able to choose the format so long as it is one the government agency is capable of making. The bill would take effect July 1, but it is mired in a conference committee.
Passed One Chamber:
Lottery winners crosscheck exemption: House Bill 1047 would require the N.C. Lottery Commission to share the names of winners of $600 or more with the Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS would then be obligated to crosscheck the names of winners against the list of people who have applied for or are receiving food and nutrition benefits. Anyone who fails to report their lottery winnings would be subject to prosecution for fraudulent misrepresentation, a Class I felony. The information provided by the lotter commission to DHHS would be confidential. The bill was filed May 5, and passed the House on June 16. It's been referred to the Senate committee on Health Care
Campaign contributor disclosures: Under existing campaign finance law, candidates for office in North Carolina are only required to disclose information about donors who give $50 or more to their campagins. House Bill 1042 would do away with the $50 threshold and require campaigns to release information about all donors. The bill was introduced May 4 and has been referred to the House Judiciary III committee.
Driver's email addresses exemption: House Bill 959 and Senate Bill 723 would add email addresses collected by the Division of Motor Vehicles to the list of personal information that is not subject to disclosure. Most personal information collected by the DMV is protected by the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act. Both versions have been referred to their respective chamber's committee on transportation.
Eliminate and consolidate enivornmental reports: Senate Bill 793 would eliminate ten annual reports filed by various agencies with the Environmental Review Commission. The reports, which cover topics such as motor vehicle emissions, municipal wastewater collection, energy efficient buildlings, fish kills, and beach and inlet management, are all public records. The bill would also reduce the frequency with which a number of other reports are filed with teh commission. The bill was filed April 28.
Increased penalties for false liens: Senate Bill 754 would increase the penalty for filing a false lien as a public record to include a $1,000 fine. The law already makes it a Class I felony. The bill would also create a new felony trespass charge for peope who enter property after having previously been trespassed and are falsely claiming color of title. It was filed April 26 and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Public Records study bill: House Bill 499 was introduced in the 2015 long session and revived briefly in the 2016 short session. It would create a joint legislative committee to study public access to information in North Carolina and recommend reforms. The bill was voted out of committee in early June and placed on the calendar, but then removed and returned to committee.
Zip line inspections trade secret exemption: House Bill 1043 would create a state inspection process for zip line and challenge course operators. As part of that inspection, any trade secret information that companies shared with the Department of Labor would remain confidential and not subject to the Public Records Law. The bill was introduced May 4 and referred to the House Judiciary III committee.