Editorial: Barrett’s transparency suggestion much-needed in NC General Assembly

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Legislators across North Carolina would do well to pay attention to a statement made by Dan Barrett, a Republican selected in 2017 to fill the remainder of an unexpired term in the N.C. Senate’s 34th District.

Though his time in the Senate was short, we think Barrett has the right idea about how transparency should work, as indicated by his statement in a story published Sunday and written by reporter Andie Foley (“Barrett reflects on time in NC Senate”).

“An area for improvement would be to make sure legislation has been looked at from all angles and interested stakeholders have had a chance to give their input before a bill comes up for a vote,” Barrett said. “Citizens need to know about and have the opportunity to give their input on legislation while it is still being considered in committee. Absent such input, there is risk that legislators are not aware of some unintended consequence of a bill.”

Many across North Carolina likely have a few memories of where Barrett’s last statement is relevant. There have been too many instances under Republican and Democratic control where a bill moved through the legislature entirely too quickly or a budget landed on legislators’ desks with little to no opportunity for review. Though, lately, Democrats have had more reason to cry foul than Republicans.

A government that works well for constituents isn’t shy about embracing transparency, and that means letting people other than policymakers weigh in on bills and budgets. The normal legislative process allows for that, but there are ample instances where, for example, provisions from bills previously thought to be “dead” are slipped into others.

Barrett has thoughts on that, too.

“Many times, bills are drafted to address a legitimate concern, and then unrelated provisions are added in as the bill winds its way through the legislature,” he said. “Occasionally this improves the bill, but many times it does not. Too often, a vote has to be based on deciding whether the good provisions in a bill outweigh the bad or vice versa.”

Legislative leaders likely have an argument about time constraints to counter Barrett’s point. Still, Barrett’s suggestion is wise, and the General Assembly could do worse than looking for ways to improve transparency in the legislative process.