Under the Dome

NC Senate OKs controversial personnel law changes

The N.C. Senate voted 31-15 – mostly along party lines – to change personnel laws governing state employees.

The bill’s most controversial provision involves opening up otherwise confidential aspects of an employee’s personnel file. Supervisors from other state or local government agencies would gain access to a worker’s file if they interview for another government job. Those supervisors could review “performance management documents.”

Sen. Paul Lowe, a Winston-Salem Democrat, said the change could harm state employees’ privacy rights, because the term “performance management documents” isn’t defined.

“A supervisor can put into a person’s file anything they want, which can hurt that employee in the long run,” Lowe said.

An amendment from Lowe to remove that change failed in a 16-30 vote, although it got support from many of the senators who later voted against the bill.

But two other contentious elements of the bill were removed with the blessing of Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, who presented the bill.

One would have taken employees’ ages out of their personnel records – taking that biographical detail out of records released to the public. Gov. Pat McCrory was criticized several years ago when two men in their 20s were hired for high-profile posts.

Sen. Andy Wells, a Hickory Republican, sponsored an amendment to keep ages public. It passed in a 45-1 vote. Wells said keeping ages private would “chip away at our open records laws.”

Another change to the bill addressed state law on political hires. The original bill would have changed a requirement that agencies hire the “most qualified” applicant and instead require only a “qualified” applicant.

“What it does is ensure that the hiring policies include focusing on the most qualified person available,” said the amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Ronald Rabin of Harnett County. “I think this is the most important thing for the taxpayers to get their money’s worth and for us to have the most effective human resources department.”

The bill now heads back to the House, which will vote on whether to back the Senate’s changes.