Legislator letters demand info under criminal threat from private schools, pregnancy centers

Democrat Sens. Garrett and Robinson claimed legislative commission authority; threatened entities with misdemeanors for non-compliance

Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Guilford) and Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford)

RALEIGH — Letters demanding information from at least 15 private schools and an unknown number of pregnancy centers sent this month also included threats of charging those entities with misdemeanors if they did not comply.

Sens. Michael Garrett (D-Guilford) and Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) authored and sent the letters.

Garrett sent his letters to at least 15 private schools that receive Opportunity Scholarship funding. In his letters, he copied three other senators in his party: Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake), Sydney Batch (D-Wake) and DeAndrea Salvador (D-Mecklenburg).

Robinson sent letters to pregnancy centers affiliated with N.C. Pregnancy Care Fellowship and that may receive state funds. She also copied Blue and Batch on her letters, as well as Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg)

Both sets of letters have sections of nearly identical wording, particularly the misdemeanor threat language. The letters are accompanied by a list of questions, some of which could be considered invasive or a fishing expedition, such as operating details, financial information and student data, as well as procedures and services offered in clinics.

Attorney and former state legislator Paul “Skip” Stam, who represents a number of the schools as well as some of the pregnancy centers, issued strongly and similarly worded letters to Garrett and Robinson.

In his letter, Stam told Garrett he advised his clients not to respond to his demands and gave several reasons why.

“The first and sufficient reason is that no individual member of the Commission has the right to demand anything from anyone, before or after the 2023 amendments to the statute,” wrote Stam. “I point out that many, if not most, of the requests for information are not cognizable by the Joint Commission.

“Finally, your threat of criminal penalties for those not responding might be rethought. If an attorney did that in a demand letter to an opponent it would be actionable. You have some immunity as a Senator. I object to it. It might occur to you that if each member of the Commission has the right to make this demand, then any other member could make a similar demand to any other entity receiving, directly or indirectly, state funds.”

Both Garrett and Robinson cited N.C. General Statute 120-75.1(6), as a member of the Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, for their authority to exact such information. In the same set of statutes, language makes it clear that the commission, as a whole, “shall have the following powers” but not an individual of the commission.

The chairs of the commission are Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain). There are 36 other members, including Robinson and Garrett.

A request for comment was sent to Garrett and Robinson but a response has not yet been received.

“North Carolina law states the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations is authorized to send a request for information, not an individual member,” said NC Values Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald. “This letter is a violation of state statutes, is an abuse of power and is clearly intended to intimidate these nonprofits who do nothing but help pregnant women in crisis.”

The organization said it had been getting messages from pregnancy care centers — facilities that offer counseling and support to encourage women to bring their pregnancies to term rather than have an abortion — that received a “weird and invasive questionnaire from a public official.”

“Pro-abortion activist members of the General Assembly have been trying to bully pregnancy care centers with their disinformation campaign and are now going the extra mile with unethical authoritarian tactics,” Fitzgerald said.

Read both sets of letters, the accompanying question lists, and Stam’s response as obtained by North State Journal:

About A.P. Dillon 1294 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_