State Sen. Tom Apodaca is sponsoring a bill that would make violations of the state’s open records and public meetings laws a misdemeanor. Currently, civil action is the only way to enforce those laws.
The short bill, cosponsored by Sen. Thom Goolsby of Wilmington, makes it a class 3 misdemeanor to deny access to public records or to violate the open meetings law, and would become law Dec. 1.
A class 3 misdemeanor carries a maximum $200 fine and up to 10 days of community service on the first offense. Currently, if a citizen or organization can’t obtain a public record or government is violating open meetings law, they have to pursue a lawsuit themselves. A recent local example was the unsuccessful attempt by local media outlets (including Xpress) to get District Attorney Ron Moore to release an audit of the Asheville Police Department evidence room.
The bill has drawn an endorsement from the North Carolina Press Association, of which Xpress is a member, noting that “the bill would provide teeth to the state’s laws on public meetings and records, instead of relying on civil action to compel enforcement.”