Every once in a while, members of the North Carolina General Assembly recognize that the locomotive they run is moving way too fast and needs to have the brakes firmly applied. That happened last week in the House.
When senators unanimously approved Senate Bill 78 back in May of 2013, the bill established a new system for the management and review of state contracts, particularly those involving investments or incurring debt.
But time ran out in the 2013 session before the House took up S.B. 78. It went nowhere until last month. At that point it received new life – but it looked nothing like the original.
All of the language concerning contracts was deleted. Nothing remained except the bill number and the fact that it had been approved by the Senate.
Instead of legislation about contracts, it was converted into a requirement that counties and cities remove the names, addresses and other information of certain law enforcement and judicial personnel from any online databases, such as tax records.
First off, we acknowledge it’s not unusual for legislators to strip bills passed in one chamber of any resemblance to the original intent. In fact, it happens all too frequently in our opinion. It may be a legal parliamentary maneuver, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.
Second, we also acknowledge that attempting to keep law enforcement personnel and their families safe is a worthy goal.
However, legislators rushing in with what appears to be a quick fix often fail to see the forest for the trees. With so many issues and bills coming at them, we find it refreshing when some of our representatives call a timeout and admit they need to study an issue.
While we’re sure many in the judicial and law enforcement professions would back this proposal, we’re also sure that Richmond County commissioners would like to first know just how much this mandate would cost Richmond County taxpayers.
The impetus for the new version of S.B. 78 was the April kidnapping of a Wake County assistant district attorney’s father. The kidnappers allegedly grabbed the father by mistake. The real target was supposed to be his daughter, the prosecutor.
The FBI believes the suspected kidnappers obtained the address by doing an online search, although it yielded the wrong address.
Momentum on the new S.B. 78 began to slow when House members began asking a lot of questions, such as: How much would this mandate cost to implement? How do you determine who qualifies to get their information removed?
Even if this measure had been law earlier this year, would it have prevented the kidnapping? Not unless it also exempted extended family members. And what about other public employees? It’s not just law enforcement and court personnel who receive threats.
A lot of unanswered questions to tackle on a tight schedule.
So in the end, the House passed S.B. 78 with a major difference. It sends the proposal off for study by the North Carolina Courts Commission where the process of answering those questions can begin.
We rely on our representatives to use their wisdom in passing legislation, arming themselves with information with no guesswork involved.