A provision in the newly released state budget appears to remove all communications regarding redistricting from the public record.
Current state law says that once new maps are approved, most of the drafting and communication that led up to those maps becomes public records that anyone can request.
The budget, however, completely repeals that section of state law.
A gerrymandering trial last year revealed that one of the GOP’s redistricting leaders, Rep. Destin Hall, had used secret maps to help draft the state’s redistricting plan. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit requested copies of those maps, but were told by the legislature that they no longer existed.
If the budget passes, it appears that lawmakers responding to public records requests will have no obligation to share any drafts or materials that guided their redistricting decisions.
Previous legal challenges to redistricting, including some brought by the North Carolina NAACP, have used draft materials as evidence.
“I’m very disturbed about the attempt to suppress information,” Deborah Maxwell, president of the NC NAACP, told The News & Observer. “...You have to know what’s on the map to fight the map.”
This is one of several provisions in the budget that allow state lawmakers to keep previously public records secret.
Another section broadly exempts legislators from the state’s public records law, stating that lawmakers, even those who are no longer in office, “shall not be required to reveal or to consent to reveal any document, supporting document, drafting request, or information request made or received by that legislator while a legislator.”
The first hearings on redistricting begin next week and come after a major ruling from the state Supreme Court’s new GOP majority, which ruled that the court cannot decide on questions of partisan gerrymandering.
This ruling struck down a decision from the court’s former Democratic majority, which found that Republicans had unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts to give the GOP an advantage.