Gov. Beverly Perdue kept one of her campaign promises recently. She used her first veto to kill a bill that would have made information requests and documents lawmakers use in drafting laws confidential.
The bill, which originated in the House, passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously, but House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, and Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, wisely decided Friday not to hold a special legislative session to override Perdue’s veto.
The legislators who gather in Raleigh to write the laws that govern our state serve at the people’s pleasure, are paid by the people’s tax dollars and are wholly accountable to the constituents who elected them.
They should be doing the people’s business in public so those constituents can judge whose interests those representatives and senators are serving.
Perdue gets high marks for upholding her campaign promise.
“Transparency is how state government and the federal government ought to be run,” she said.
The bill our lawmakers passed would have made bill drafting requests, or any information requests they made to a legislative employee, confidential. It would have made any supporting documents submitted to a legislative employee by a lawmaker in connection with bill drafting confidential. It would have made documents submitted to a legislator by another person confidential.
Documents prepared by legislative employees at the request of lawmakers would also have been confidential.
It would have extended the cloak of secrecy to any state agency or executive branch employee dealing with requests for assistance from the legislative branch.
Perdue said she vetoed the bill, in part, because executive branch employees could have faced a low-grade misdemeanor if they failed to adhere to the confidentiality requirements when dealing with legislative requests.
Aside from keeping the public in the dark about what lawmakers are working on, the bill would have made it much harder for the public to figure out who is supplying lawmakers with information as a way of influencing legislation.
It would have made it impossible for the public to know what that legislation contained or to refute it if need be.
In other words, as N.C. Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform Director Jane Pinsky told the Raleigh News & Observer, the bill “would have made it difficult for citizens to follow legislation and find out where the idea came from, who’s pushing it and who’s benefiting from it.”
House Speaker Hackney said lawmakers agreed the time and expense of a special session weren’t justified in this case.
The issues addressed in the bill aren’t urgent, he said, and lawmakers can discuss Perdue’s concerns with her when the short session begins in May.
Perhaps there should have been more discussion between the legislative and executive branches before the bill passed both houses, but there should be little need for further discussion now.
On this issue, Perdue got it right and the legislature got it wrong.