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NCGA Republicans Given ‘Black Hole Award’ for ‘Unethical and Shadowy Governance’ After Changing Public Records Law

SourceNews & Observer

North Carolina lawmakers have received an award – but celebrations are certainly not in order.

According to The News & Observer, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) announced earlier this month that the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) will receive the organization’s annual Black Hole Award “for violating the public’s right to know in the change of the state’s public records law.”

SPJ hands out the award every year during “Sunshine Week” to government institutions or agencies “for acts of outright contempt of the public’s right to know.”

The NCGA was given the award because of a provision Republicans put in last year’s budget, which was adopted by the GOP supermajority, that exempted legislators from the state’s public records law. Lawmakers also decided to exempt documents and records dealing with the closed-door redistricting process from public records law.

“The North Carolina law worsens a national patchwork of threats to state government transparency,” said SPJ Freedom of Information Committee member Howard Goldberg in a press release. “Legislatures in effect are exempting themselves from accountability to citizens who want to know how their laws are made and who is influencing their lawmakers.”

As previously reported by the N&O, the change to public records law means that lawmakers get to decide what public records, if any, their constituents can see.

The newspaper decided to test how responsive lawmakers would be under the new law when they requested emails from 170 legislators for Sept. 19, which is the day that monthslong budget disagreements were finally resolved by Republicans in the House and Senate.

According to the N&O, “Only 38 lawmakers, mostly Democrats, responded to the N&O’s request. More than 70% of lawmakers did not respond.”

The new public records law only covers legislators – the governor and other statewide elected officials are still subject to public records law.

As SPJ highlighted, communications during the redistricting process used to become public once the new maps became law. That is no longer the case, and it’s especially important that the public have access to these records because the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled last year that partisan gerrymanders are allowed. After the state Supreme Court’s ruling, the Republican supermajority now has the authority to draw lawmaker districts to their advantage, and there are only a few limitations to how far they can go.

The Republican legislature’s public records law changes have been criticized by organizations on both the right and the left, ranging from the right-wing John Locke Foundation to the ACLU of North Carolina.

“The assembly netted a hat trick of unethical and shadowy governance by introducing a measure to hide their day-to-day decisions with taxpayer dollars, and the process for redrawing the election map that affects their party’s job security as well as the citizens’ right to choose, all within the annual budget, essentially holding it hostage for these provisions and disallowing the government to continue properly providing services,” said Sterling Cosper, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee co-chair.

Tim Gruver, an SPJ Freedom of Information Committee member, said that state lawmakers here are “shirking their moral and constitutional duties as public employees to inform their constituents what they are doing with taxpayer time and money while on the clock.”

Another SPJ Freedom of Information Committee member, co-chair Jodi Rave Spotted Bear, said Republican lawmakers have given the state’s “First in Flight” a new meaning.

“State leaders now soar in the spirit of the Black Hole Award, an egregious recognition earned by trampling on the public right to information,” Rave Spotted Bear said.


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