Filing deadline leads to flurry of bills affecting transparency

More than a dozen bills introduced in the final hours before Thursday's filing deadline would affect transparency in North Carolina. They include eight new records exemptions, a pair of new transparency initiatives, several clarifications on who is subject to the public records law and a special rule that allows law enforcement personnel to have certain personal information removed form government websites. 

In addition to the fundamental change in how ownership of public records would be defined, which is discussed in this post, the filing deadline Thursday attracted a rash of bills that could affect transparency in North Carolina. They include: 

Senate Bill 516 would give certain law enforcement officials the ability to have their personal information removed from government websites. The law applies to police officers, deputies, assistant district attorneys, assistant United States attorneys, magistrates and federal judges. It would not apply to elected officials. 

The law is in response to the kidnapping last year of a relative of a Wake County assistant district attorney in retaliation for a prosecution that she led. It has never been made public whether or not the perpetrators used publicly accessible online databases to locate her family. 

The records removed from government websites would still be public records, but they would no longer be accessible online. The law also would create a new exemption to the public records law for the takedown requests themselves. The officers’ requests would not be public records. 

A second law enforcement privacy bill, Senate Bill 699 would entirely exempt public records about officers from inspection upon request. 

Senate Bill 432 would 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. 

Senate Bill 633 would create a new section of the Public Records Act that requires local governments that have websites to post a laundry list of public records 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. 

House 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. 

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. 

House Bill 299 would create a new exemption for medical information shared by private protective service licensees with the state during their renewal process. 

Senate Bill 636 would require most public records to be converted to a digital format and stored electronically. 

Senate 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. 

House 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. 

Senate Bill 578 would require 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. 

Senate Bill 695 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. 

Senate Bill 564 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. 

Senate Bill 696 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.  

Senate 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.