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Transparency in N.C. legislature needs to be real

Jack Betts
Fannie Flono writes on news, politics and life in The Carolinas. Her column appears on the Editorial pages of The Charlotte Observer.

In this last month of the N.C. legislature’s short session, as lawmakers were lumbering toward adjournment, they approved a bill to require candidates seeking office to file their campaign finance reports electronically starting in 2017. That’s a good piece of legislation that will make election campaigns more transparent. But the way lawmakers got it done, late at night and out of the public eye, only highlights the troubling lack of transparency that’s a constant with this legislature.

Yes, Democrats also were guilty of shutting the public out and making policy in secret when they were in charge. But Republicans pledged something different. What we got was something worse. Last year’s long session was dogged by bills being introduced with little notice and at odd times to get around public input. Over this summer’s session, controversial bills just popped up – like one that declared a regional airport commmission lawmakers mandated last year to run the Charlotte Douglas airport an agency of the city. In another dead-of-night move, lawmakers snuck in substantive changes to predatory lending and other laws, dubbing them “technical corrections.”

Early in the session, in May, lawmakers sought other ways to mute public input and oversight. To thwart public protests of their actions, they passed rules to limit public access to the legislative building where they met. One lawmaker even tried to prevent the media from recording committee meetings, declaring recording devices had to be registered. After protests that the meetings were public and such an edict was illegal, the lawmaker rescinded that wrong-headed move.

When lawmakers return to work in January for the long session, they should make transparency and openness a reality, not just political rhetoric.

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