Source: NC Newsline
Republican North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell hit out at the Republican-controlled General Assembly after they passed a budget that included a provision restricting access to public records, NC Newsline reported.
Included within the $30 billion North Carolina state budget, which has now become law, is a provision allowing lawmakers to exempt themselves from the state’s public records law and keep their records secret.
Folwell, who is also running for governor in 2024, spoke with the media about the un-democratic budget provision. Having served four terms in the state legislature before becoming treasurer, he told reporters that the provision is problematic.
“By allowing individual lawmakers to determine what records are public and what material can be destroyed without ever seeing the sunshine of public view creates a system that does not have standards or accountability,” said Folwell. “It prevents the public from learning who and what influence[s] certain decision-making on their behalf.”
Giving credit where it’s due, this doesn’t appear to be some sort of ploy to gain the voters’ trust – Folwell and the Treasurer’s office received the North Carolina Open Government Coalition’s “Sunshine Award” last year for making efforts to improve transparency and fulfill public records requests, NC Newsline reported.
Folwell said that he hopes the provision will be reexamined.
“I think that as members of the General Assembly actually look at how this jumped up on the table, and for what problem is it actually trying to solve, there’s always an opportunity, and really [at the] snap of a finger for them to undo this,” he said.
Brooks Fuller, director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, called the provision a devastating blow to public access.
According to Fuller, lawmakers now have “full discretion to decide whether they want to release certain records that would otherwise be subject to disclosure. This provision … covers basically everything under the sun.”
“I think the most likely result is that this will really undermine the ability of the press to inform the people of North Carolina about what’s going on in the General Assembly,” he told WFAE in an interview. “It will basically create a black box over there in Raleigh, where it’s difficult to get good, verifiable, authentic information.”
Of course, legislators could decide to reverse their decision – but based on everything we know about legislative Republicans, it’s extremely unlikely.
“That obviously will be their decision,” said Folwell.