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N.C. Opinions: Winston-Salem

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Secrets on the farm

From an editorial Saturday in the Winston-Salem Journal:

A provision in the N.C. Farm Act of 2014 passed by the legislature last week will shield complaints made against farming operations from public view, effectively exempting them from state open records laws.

We appreciate farmers and the food they provide for us. But, especially as large farming operations edge out small family farms, environmental protections are needed. And the public has a right to know how those protections are faring.

The latest provision will make it even harder to find such information. According to Section 1 of the N.C. Farm Act of 2014, or House Bill 366: “Complaints of violations … relating to an agricultural operation and all other records accumulated in conjunction with the investigation of these complaints shall be considered confidential records and may be released only by order of a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Supporters of the provision say it will deter frivolous complaints.

But Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, whose family is in the tree-farming business, said he wasn’t sure the exemption is needed. “There’s already a criminal statute that makes it a misdemeanor to file a false report, so if somebody files a false report – a fight going on between neighbors – there’s a way to sort that out.”

If Gov. Pat McCrory signs this bill, legislators should revisit it and strike the “secrecy” clause.

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