Hundred year cap on exemptions passes

The General Assembly passed a bill that would create a 100-year time limit on exemptions to the Public Records Law, regardless of the reason. The Department of Cultural Resources requested the change to reopen some 19th and 20th century records in the State Archives. Another provision of the bill will also settle who owns the rights to visual images of shipwrecks. 

The Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that would make two changes to the Public Records Law. First, it will create a 100-year time limit on how long exemptions to the Public Records Law last. Second, the bill will clarify that images and descriptions of shipwrecks that are owned by the Department of Cultural Resources are public records, regardless of any agreements that have been entered into with third parties. 

Both changes were requested by Cultural Resources. Recently the State Archives has closed off access to some 19th and early 20th century records, such as those from mental competency hearings, because the laws creating those exemptions do not contain a time limit. The result was that records related to people who died long ago, and whose privacy interests died with them, were no longer accessible. The bill would reopen those records, which are important to historians, researchers and genealogists. 

The second change is meant to prevent the kind of dispute that Cultural Resources finds itself in with Intersal, the salvage company that found Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, off North Carolina’s coast. Intersal and the state entered into an agreement that gave the company control of media rights related to the find in exchange for it abandoning some of its claims to the find itself. The company recently sued the state claiming that those media rights were being violated by Cultural Resources use of photos and video of the wreck site. The bill clarifies that such videos are public records. That portion of the law would only take effect once any existing agreement is renewed or a new agreement is entered into. 

After clearing the Senate Tuesday, the bill will be sent to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature. It will take effect as soon as the bill becomes law.