Should access be enshrined in constitution?

February 11, 2011 

A House bill proposes to ask the public whether access to government meetings and the ability to inspect and copy government records should be constitutional rights.

The N.C. Press Association wants the constitutional amendment. The primary sponsors are Republican Reps. Stephen LaRoque and Tim Moore. Sen. Debbie A. Clary, a Republican from Shelby, is expected to file a companion bill.

If it is approved by the legislature, it could be considered as a statewide ballot measure as early as next year. It would require two-thirds majorities of the House and Senate to reduce public access to records or meetings.

"If this passes, the public will be guaranteed its rights and will be protected from any efforts to keep the business of government from the people," NCPA Executive Director Beth Grace said in a statement.

The trade association lobbies for open government on behalf of daily and community newspapers statewide, including The News & Observer.

Backing McHenry

U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry received $19,700 during the last campaign cycle from companies and associations that responded to an invitation to tell House Republicans what regulations hurt their businesses.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week released 2,000 pages worth of responses to the request in December from U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the committee's chairman. He asked organizations to offerideas on what federal regulations harm job growth.

More than 100 companies and associations responded. Of those, 58 are politically active, the Center for Responsive Politics reported Thursday.

CRP, which runs the Open Secrets campaign money-tracking website, reported that McHenry was the No. 3 recipient of campaign donations from those groups' political action committees in the 2010 campaign cycle. McHenry, a Cherryville Republican, is chairman of the oversight subcommittee focused on TARP, financial services and federal bailouts.

Myrick faults Brotherhood

U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick used the unrest in Egypt as a jumping-off point Thursday in questioning the United States' top security officials about the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been active in anti-government protests in the Mideast - and later accused the Obama administration of "playing with fire."

At an open session of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Myrick asked whether the organization, active in Egypt, is a threat to America. "Do you consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be a danger based on their extremist ideology?" she asked.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper agreed with Myrick that the group is prominent in what's going on now in Egypt and elsewhere in the Mideast. But he said that in Egypt, the group is mostly secular, pursuing social change.

"The term Muslim Brotherhood is an umbrella term for a variety of movements," Clapper said. "In the case of Egypt, it is a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al-Qaida as a perversion of Islam. They have pursued social ends to the betterment of the political order in Egypt, etc."

Myrick, a Charlotte Republican, interrupted him to say she wasn't interested in the group's violent side but rather its non-violent side and its work in the United States. She has been active for more than a year in raising awareness about what she calls "homegrown terrorism" and propaganda aimed at American Muslim youth.

Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, reassured Myrick that the agency is working with policy agencies to empower American Muslim communities "so they could see how their children could be victimized through terrorist propaganda."

Myrick later rebutted the officials' views in a statement issued by her office.

"Either the Administration doesn't know who the Muslim Brotherhood is, which shows incompetence, or they are apologizing for them, which is inappropriate for those in charge of protecting the American people," Myrick said. "Let's be clear - the Muslim Brotherhood is NOT secular. ... The administration is playing with fire here."

By staff writers Lynn Bonner and Barbara Barrett

lynn.bonner@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4821

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