Stormclouds for Sunshine Amendment
Posted April 4, 2011 10:36 p.m. EDT
Updated April 4, 2011 10:39 p.m. EDT
Looks like more delays are ahead for Rep. Stephen LaRoque’s Sunshine Amendment, House Bill 87.
The measure aims to make it more difficult for state lawmakers to restrict access to public records or meetings, requiring a three-fifths vote for the legislature to pass any law that would close or tighten public access.
It’s an idea most everyone agrees is a good one, at least when they’re asked about it on camera. But the devil is in the execution, apparently.
The version that made it onto the House floor last month was a fairly complex constitutional amendment. It was pulled after a lengthy debate made it clear it wouldn’t get the 72 votes an amendment requires.
Opponent Bill Faison, D-Orange, argued then that it should be a statute, not an amendment. He said it was too complex to be an amendment, and that it was self-defeating and unconstitutional for an amendment to provide lawmakers a way (the three-fifths vote) to override it if they want to.
LaRoque, R-Lenoir, brought H87 back up in House Rules tonight, reconceived as a law rather than an amendment.
But this time, the opposition came from his fellow Republicans – kind, but authoritative.
Majority Leader Paul Stam said the Constitution says the legislature can enact laws with a majority vote, and a mere statute couldn’t overturn the constitution. That requires a constitutional amendment, he said.
Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, agreed a law wouldn’t do the job. “Maybe it has some value symbolically, but I don’t believe it would bind a future General Assembly.”
“I’m sympathetic to you,” Blust added almost sheepishly. “But I don’t see a way around it.”
LaRoque was clearly caught off guard, sipping some water as he sought to collect his thoughts. His Rules co-chair Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, joked it was the first time he’d seen LaRoque speechless.
LaRoque and Moore adjourned the meeting without further debate.
Afterward, LaRoque said he has a Plan C for the bill – taking it back to a constitutional amendment in its newly simplified form. Watch the clip for his comments.