NC lawmakers dilute transparency with a maneuver that shows why we need it


For more than a decade, N.C. lawmakers have tried to pass legislation that would allow local governments to move legal and public notices out of newspapers. Those notices often contain vital information — a zoning change in your neighborhood, an important public meeting — and they are required to appear in newspapers because more people will see them there.

That’s part of the reason such bills have failed in North Carolina, with a notable exception: In 2017, lawmakers changed public notice requirements in Guilford County in a local bill that Gov. Roy Cooper couldn’t veto. Now Republicans want to do the same for dozens more counties using a sneaky legislative maneuver.

As the News & Observer’s Colin Campbell reportsHouse Bill 35, sponsored by Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, would allow 14 counties that stretch from Swain in the west to Currituck on the coast to put legal and public notices on their websites instead of in newspapers. House Bill 51, sponsored by Rep. Howard Penny, R-Harnett, would do the same for a dozen eastern counties.

By splitting the counties, each bill is considered a local bill — affecting fewer than 15 counties — and therefore not subject to the governor’s veto under North Carolina law. But if you’re accomplishing the same larger purpose in two separate measures, they’re not really local bills. Legislators know it, and they should stop trying to skirt the law.

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