Tuesday, May 21, 2024

New website could soon give public access to Louisiana, local gov’t financial records

by BIZ Magazine

By Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator

Louisiana could soon get a new website that gives the public in-depth access to a trove of government finance records from every agency, board, commission, department and courthouse at the state and local government level. 

House Bill 597, sponsored by Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, would require government bodies to use a new online portal that allows automatic uploads of data from almost any standard accounting software. Financial records from state and local governments would then be available to the public on a single website.

Ivey has been regularly monitoring the legislature’s website, anxiously waiting for Gov. John Bel Edwards to sign the bill. 

“I was in communication with his administration throughout the process and incorporated their feedback,” Ivey said. “I don’t know of any reasons why he wouldn’t sign it.”

Edwards has been in Europe on an economic development mission for the past week. Since his departure, the governor’s office has issued lists of bills he has signed with more expected next week. 

Ivey’s bill was the culmination of an eight-year project he began working on at the start of his second term in office. The 2023 legislative session was Ivey’s last as a term-limited House member. He plans to run for the state Senate District 6 seat this fall to replace term-limited Sen. Bodi White, R-Central. 

The legislature approved Ivey’s bill during the final hour of the session that ended June 8. It was the very last bill the House passed. 

The state currently has a website, Louisiana Checkbook, that already does some of what Ivey’s bill has in store. He actually came up with the idea for the website in 2016 but couldn’t get his legislation to create it out of the Senate Finance Committee. He finally managed to get the bill passed in 2018, with help from former Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, but the site doesn’t include most of the financial data Ivey wants to make available to the public. 

“This will be kind of like a Louisiana Checkbook 2.0,” Ivey said. 

The new website would include records from the judicial branch and from local governments, as well as more detailed financial databases for employment and payroll records, tax incentives, government contracts, agency debts, appropriations and other information. It would include only information covered under the state’s public records law.

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor would manage the site, with annual funding of $3.5 million and oversight from the Legislative Audit Advisory Council. The initial appropriation could come this year or by July 2024 at the latest, after which the legislative auditor’s office will begin working on the new site.  

“The process is going to be as pain-free as possible,” Ivey said. “We should prioritize the data we’re going to be publishing. Some may be more difficult to publish in a database format, so we’ll have to use a little discretion on what’s practical.” 

He expects the website will mostly appeal to government vendors, policy makers, watchdogs and journalists.

“Those groups — they’re going to love this,” Ivey said. “I think it’s also going to alleviate a lot of public records requests.”

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