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Bill expanding access to North Carolina government worker information clears Senate

By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

Short explanations of why a North Carolina state or local government employee was transferred, demoted or suspended would be accessible by the public or media in legislation approved by the Senate on Monday night.

The measure, backed by the North Carolina Press Association and opposed by the State Employees Association of North Carolina, builds upon current law that states the “general description of the reasons” for a worker’s promotion is a public record.

The legislation, which now goes to the House for consideration after a 28-19 vote, would require that “general description” for a number of other employee changes, including dismissals, when requested.

State law already says an agency’s final written explanation about why someone has been fired must also be provided when requested.

The proposal was reworked in several committee meetings to make clear health information and unsubstantiated accusations by supervisor can’t be made public. And now the measure, which would take effect with work actions starting Dec. 1, would tell government employers to create policies that allow workers to challenge the description wording.

That wasn’t enough for some senators — mostly Democrats — who remain worried that employees will be sullied by allegations that will get posted online and lack the resources to fight them. There was little floor debate Monday before three Democrats and all but one Republican cast the “yes” votes.

The bill, pushed by GOP Sen. Norm Sanderson of Pamlico County, also would apply to workers of the University of North Carolina and community college system, sheriff’s deputies and police officers and regional mental health agencies.

The N.C. Press Association has said the access expansion will put North Carolina in line with 35 other states that already provide this level of personnel information to the public. North Carolina law limits what other information from a personnel file is public to items such a worker’s age, start date, current title and salary.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who sponsored a similar personnel information measure while he was in the Senate in the 1990s, was noncommittal earlier Monday about whether he’d back this year’s legislation, saying he wants to see the final product.

“I do believe that transparency is important. Obviously, there are issues that need to be protected when it comes to personnel records,” Cooper said at a ceremony to sign unrelated legislation, adding that the personnel bill “is changing some as it moves forward.”

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