From an editorial published in the Winston Salem Journal on Wednesday:
This spring, North Carolinians learned that many employers in the state were brazenly violating state law by not carrying workers’ compensation insurance.
The General Assembly’s legislation in response to this problem would create another unacceptable problem: It would make it all the harder for the public to learn that the N.C. Industrial Commission is not properly doing its job, or that employers aren’t paying their legally required insurance premiums.
Under HB 237, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell of Winston-Salem, the N.C. Rate Bureau, which has a contract to provide workers’ compensation data to the industrial commission, would be allowed to block public access to that information. Folwell told our editorial board that he’s just trying to get the rate bureau and the industrial commission to fill costly gaps in their communication, but the rate bureau can’t cooperate if it thinks that information will be made public.
But the information should be public if it goes to the commission.
In April, The (Raleigh) News & Observer used the rate bureau’s database to demonstrate how the law was not being followed.
The rate bureau claims that the information that it sells to the commission, a state agency, is proprietary and must, therefore, be protected. Give that argument a moment’s thought and the implications for public access to information are enormous. If privately collected information could be sold to the state on the condition that it is not a public record, then government could end all snooping by the citizenry. Agencies would simply outsource the collection of all information, the storage of all records, and then they would sign a confidentiality agreement with those private contractors.
Want a death certificate? Sorry, it’s private. Want a legislator’s driving record? Sorry, it’s the property of the company that collected it. Under this logic, companies could apply for industrial incentives from taxpayers but then, when asked to show that they met the terms of the incentives deal, they could say, “M.Y.O.B.”
If the rate bureau wants to keep its information secret, it can do so. It just has to give up its contract with the industrial commission.
Gov. Bev Perdue should veto this bill.
The views expressed in N.C. Opinions are not necessarily those of the Observer’s editorial board.
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