An Open Government Act filed in the N.C. House yesterday (HB 1134) would create an Open Government Unit in the Department of Justice for purposes of furthering government transparency. The unit would work with the public and government agencies through education concerning open-meetings law, and through mediation (for a fee) in public-records disputes. The legislation would also enable judges to allow recovery of “reasonable attorneys’ fees” when parties suing for public disclosure “substantially prevail.”
As noted in an article about the bill in today’s News & Observer of Raleigh, a proposal to allow automatic recovery of attorney’s fees died in the House last year because it removed discretion from the judges. That bill had been unanimously approved by the Senate.
According to the N&O, the N.C. Press Association is urging for automatic recovery of fees in records lawsuits because of the cost of taking an issue to court. NCPA attorney John Bussian, as attributed in the article, thinks some public officials have no fear of improperly withholding public records because so few people can afford to sue.
“They do it because there’s no consequences,” Bussian was quoted as saying. According to the article, the N.C. League of Municipalities opposes the bill.
Rep. Ray Rapp of Haywood, Madison and Yancey counties is a co-sponsor of the bill.
— Nelda Holder, associate editor