Light might soon be shed on what happens behind closed doors in the N.C. General Assembly.
Just in time for Sunshine Week, a national initiative that began in 2002 to promote open government, Republican lawmakers are pushing two pieces of legislation that promote government transparency.
If passed, Senate Bill 67 would add a constitutional amendment ensuring public access to documents and meetings.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant for any disease,” said Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover.
Goolsby, who is a primary sponsor of the bill, said the bill is necessary to strengthen the public’s confidence in their government.
“Let the sunshine in, it’s been far too long that the people of this state haven’t known what’s being done in their name and with their money,” Goolsby said.
Jane Pinsky, director of the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said the state ranks somewhere between 25 to 35 in the nation when it comes to government transparency.
“One of the biggest things we don’t have is televised meetings,” Pinsky said.
While this is not part of the proposed legislation, Pinsky said it is common in most other states.
“Unfortunately, it costs money and the state is not in the position to spend that additional money this year,” she said.
Goolsby and two other Republican leaders are also sponsoring a separate bill that would require state institutions to provide the public with information about state employees – including reasons for promotion, demotion and firing.
“Once you make transparency a part of the state’s constitution, then it can’t be overruled just because it’s an inconvenience,” Goolsby said.
North Carolinians are especially concerned with government decisions this year since the legislature is expected to make major changes to the state budget.
Edwin McLenaghan, a public policy analyst for the N.C. Budget and Tax Center, said the new legislation is a step in the right direction for the state.
McLenaghan said improving the transparency of public debate will be critical in the decision-making process of this year’s budget cuts.
Co-sponsor for both bills Sen. Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, said in a statement that she hopes her fellow legislators will support the bill.
“My support for Senate Bill 344 only furthers our efforts to create more transparency in our state government,” Harrington said.
Sen. Eric Mansfield, D-Cumberland, said the bill would help the government improve its reputation with the public.
“We work for the public so they have the right to know that no back door deals are being made.”
But he said the public should not have access to personnel information that unnecessarily damages an employee’s reputation.“It’s a little bit of a sticky situation when employee records are in question,” he said.
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