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Opinion A peculiar definition of openness

It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand the Republican legislative leadership’s definition of open and transparent government, particularly the way House leaders define it.

This week News & Observer reporter Andy Curliss was kicked out of a meeting between lobbyists and 15-20 Republican lawmakers who were discussing the merits of legalizing video poker in the state. House Speaker Thom Tillis defended the closed meeting, which was basically a secret committee hearing, saying it “allows lawmakers to ask questions they might not ask in public for fear of being perceived as ignorant or biased.” But the public deserves to hear the testimony of lobbyists and the questions from lawmakers, ignorant or biased or whatever else.

Democratic and Republican caucuses have always met privately but the meetings are generally strategy sessions for members only, not shadow committee meetings with lobbyists on hand. It makes you wonder where the real Appropriations Committees are meeting.

It’s certainly not open if it is not announced at all and held in secret where only lawmakers and invited lobbyists can attend. – Chris FitzsimonAnd it’s not just the secret meetings that are the problem. The House doesn’t seem too fond of public notice of regular committee meetings either. House Appropriations Chair Harold Brubaker bristled this week at Democrats’ suggestions that a bill to raid economic development funds was rushed through committee.

Brubaker said that everyone had the chance to speak, including members of the public who were at the budget committee meeting. Brubaker did not mention that the meeting was announced only a few hours before it was held, making it impossible for most members of the general public to attend, including economic developers and chamber officials across the state who opposed the budget cuts.

The tone was set the second day of the session when the House Judiciary Committee met and refused to allow any public comment on legislation to exempt North Carolina from federal health care reform. That meeting came just 15 minutes after the membership of the committee was announced.

Speaker Tillis has allowed open and lengthy debate on the House floor, but that’s only part of the legislative process and one that that the public cannot participate in. It is not really an open committee meeting if it is announced at the last minute.

And it’s certainly not open if it is not announced at all and held in secret where only lawmakers and invited lobbyists can attend.

NC Policy Watch is a project of the North Carolina Justice Center with major support provided by the AJ Fletcher Foundation.


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