Senate bill would substantially change records law

A bill filed Thursday in the Senate would limit the right of access created by the Public Records Act to "citizens" of North Carolina. The law currently allows access for "any person" regardless of whether they are state residents. 

Senate Bill 553, filed Thursday, would make a fundamental change in how public records requests in North Carolina are handled, by limiting access to North Carolina residents. 

The Public Records Act states that “public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law.”

The new Senate proposal would change that statement to read that public records “are the property of citizens of this state” and that “citizens of this state may obtain copies.” Throughout the act it would replace references to “any person” with “citizens of this state.” 

The changes would significantly limit who can get access to public records. The current wording allows anyone, whether they are residents of North Carolina or not, to obtain copies of public records. Some states, such as Virginia and Tennessee, limit access to state residents. The language change in the Senate proposal appears aimed at doing the same in North Carolina. 

The Richmond County Daily Journal reported last week that the N.C. Association of County Commissioners had made it a legislative priority to change the records law to limit access to North Carolina residents.