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A bill that would all but guarantee attorneys fees for those who sue over public records cleared a key committee Wednesday morning.
The bill's supporters narrowly escaped an amendment that would have also guaranteed attorneys fees if a government agency wins a records lawsuit. The amendment failed on a tie vote.
The amendment's sponsor, Rep. Bill Owens, an Elizabeth City Democrat, was necessary to ensure that news organizations and state residents don't flood government with frivolous lawsuits.
"It's said we need to look out for the people's information," Owens said. "We need to look out for the people's money as well."
Supporters of the original bill said that government agencies, cities, counties and towns are not above using their staff attorneys to stonewall citizens.
"Since when has fighting city hall been described as a level playing field?" said Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Hickory Republican.
Owens amendment, or one like it, seems likely to resurface when the bill hits the House floor, possibly next week.
More after the jump.