Politics & Government

Should there be a 9 p.m. curfew for lawmaking? A bill calls for more ‘sunshine’

NC House of Representatives opens legislative session

Lawmakers convened Wednesday for their organizational session. Roughly a fifth of the 120-member House will take their seats for the first time this year.
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Lawmakers convened Wednesday for their organizational session. Roughly a fifth of the 120-member House will take their seats for the first time this year.

Four N.C. House members filed legislation Tuesday to put an end to several legislative maneuvers that typically leave the public in the dark about how their business gets done.

The legislation would expand the use of live broadcasts, require more time for disseminating legislation, limit late-night lawmaking and prevent tactics often used to make policy quickly by inserting it into unrelated bills.

“As major news organizations are reducing staffing, as the legislature has this year relegated reporters to the basement, as small rural newspapers such as in my district struggle to survive, and as a 24/7 national news bullhorn deafens our citizens to the important work that’s going on in Raleigh, our citizens know less and less about their state government,” Rep. Ray Russell, a Boone Democrat in his first term, told reporters at a news conference. “The legislature needs to get in this century regarding how it informs constituents about our work.”

House Bill 341 would expand upon legislation which has already moved through the House requiring live broadcasts of its sessions, to include the Senate and most legislative committee meetings. Those broadcasts would also be archived for public access. The bill would also require:

-- 24 hours notice of bills before they can be passed by either chamber.

-- that sessions of the full House or Senate be held between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. and committee meetings between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

-- that changes to legislation stick to the subject matter of the filed bill. In other words, legislation about car registrations could not be amended to take up child care. This would stop a common and controversial practice known as “gut-and-amend” in which major changes to legislation are made without any lawmakers taking responsibility. The one exception would be the budget bill.

-- that special provisions within the often hefty budget bill have to show who sponsored them. These provisions sometimes include major policy changes that are little-understood and force lawmakers to adopt them in order to keep government running.

State lawmakers could make exceptions to the limits if two-thirds of the members in the chamber or committee agree.

State lawmakers have in past years been more open about their processes. Roughly a decade ago the budget bill listed special provision sponsors.

Russell said he came up with the legislation, which he titled the North Carolina Sunshine Act, after reading a column by NC Insider Editor Colin Campbell about the lack of transparency in the legislature.

All four sponsors of the bill are Democrats, making its prospects uncertain in the Republican-controlled House.

The other House members joining Russell in support of the bill are Reps. Marcia Morey of Durham, John Ager of Buncombe County and Amos Quick of Guilford County.

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