TO STRENGTHEN CONFIDENCE IN GOVERNMENT BY INCREASING ACCESSIBILITY TO PUBLIC PERSONNEL HIRING, FIRING, AND PERFORMANCE RECORDS AND OTHER GOVERNMENTAL RECORDS AND MEETINGS, TO REQUIRE THE AUDIO OR VIDEO RECORDING OF CLOSED SESSIONS OF PUBLIC BODY MEETINGS, TO AMEND THE PUBLIC RECORDS LAWS TO PROVIDE THAT THE SUCCESSFUL PLAINTIFF IN A PUBLIC RECORDS DISPUTE IS ENTITLED TO REASONABLE ATTORNEYS’ FEES, TO IMPOSE INDIVIDUAL LIABILITY FOR CIVIL PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO PROVIDE ACCESS TO A PUBLIC RECORD WITHOUT GOOD CAUSE, AND TO CREATE THE OPEN GOVERNMENT UNIT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE.
The following changes are effective December 1, 2011.
Amends the following statutes to provide that a general description of the reasons for each employee’s promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, separation, or other change in position classification with the applicable entity will be subject to inspection (expands information currently subject to inspection): GS 126-23(a) (state employee personnel records), GS 115C-320(a) (local boards of education), GS 115D-28(a) (community college employee personnel records), GS 122C-158(b) (employees under the Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Act), GS 153A-98(b) (county employees), GS 160A-168(b) (city employees), and GS 162A-6.1(b) (water and sewer authority employees). Adds that the performance of the employee, to the extent that the entity has the performance records in possession, will also be subject to inspection.
Deletes provisions of GS 143-318.16B (assessments and awards of attorneys’ fees) and replaces them with the following new provisions. Allows a party who substantially prevails in seeking compliance with the open meetings law by public bodies to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees if the fees are attributable to that noncompliance, in any action brought under Article 33C of GS Chapter 143, as specified. Prohibits the court from assessing attorneys’ fees against the governmental body or unit if the court finds that the body or unit acted in reasonable reliance on: (1) a judgment or order of a court applicable to the body or unit; (2) the published opinion of an appellate court, an order of the NC Business Court, or a final order of the Trial Division of the General Court of Justice; or (3) a written opinion, decision, or letter of the Attorney General. Details additional guidelines for the payment of fees, and specifies that a court may not assess attorneys’ fees against a public hospital, as defined, if the court finds that the action was brought by or on behalf of a competing health care provider for obtaining information used to gain a competitive advantage.
Adds a new subsection (e) to GS 143-318.11 to require every public body conducting a meeting in a closed session to record the closed session in its entirety either as an audio or video recording. Directs that upon demand from a court of competent jurisdiction the recording be produced. Requires that the recording be preserved at minimum until such time as the need for the lawful confidentiality of the subject of the closed session has passed.
The following changes are effective October 1, 2011, and apply to actions brought on or after that date or to violations on or after that date.
Amends GS 132-9(c) to provide that in any action brought regarding a denial of access to public records in which a party successfully compels the disclosure of the public records, the prevailing party is allowed to recover its reasonable attorneys’ fees if attributed to those public records. Deletes provisions that permit the court to deny attorneys’ fees based on specified findings by the court.
Enacts a new GS 132-11 to allow a court to find a public officer or state or local official, who violates the public records access requirements of GS Chapter 132 without good cause, individually liable for a civil penalty of up to $50 for each day that public officer or state or local official failed to provide access to the public record without good cause. Requires the clear proceeds of the civil penalty be remitted to the Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund.
Effective when the act becomes law, enacts new Article 8 of GS Chapter 114 to create the Open Government Unit within the Department of Justice. Delineates the actions, duties, and reporting responsibilities of the Open Government Unit. Provides for the charging of a reasonable fee for services of moderation or mediation in resolving public record and open meeting issues by the Open Government Unit. Declares that this section does not apply to the Judicial Department.
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