Monday, May 27, 2024

Republicans spike bill to shield Louisiana government records from public 

by BIZ Magazine

BY: PIPER HUTCHINSON – The Louisiana Illuminator

The sponsor of a controversial bill to shield most records of the Louisiana governor’s office from the public withdrew his bill Monday, killing it for the legislative session.

Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, tanked Senate Bill 423, which he and two other GOP legislators with proposals to curb Louisiana’s public records laws had designated as the measure to advance this session. The other two bills, Senate Bill 482 by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, and Senate Bill 502 by Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, remain alive, but their path forward is uncertain.

In its original state, Morris’ bill would have limited access to public records to Louisiana residents, but he introduced amendments that would have incorporated elements of Cloud’s and Miguez’s bills. The amendments, which were never formally adopted, were touted as a compromise. They would have shielded most records in the governor’s office from public disclosure, limited public records access to Louisiana residents and required individuals to attest to their identity.

Republican Gov. Jeff Landry has been a proponent of bills seeking to reign in the state’s public records law, arguing such requests have become weaponized.

In withdrawing his bill, Morris said he understood the governor’s concerns but said he had to balance the governor’s privacy concerns with the public interest.

“The perception around these bills has become that ‘everybody’s trying to hide something,’” Morris said. “I absolutely do not want to be associated with trying to hide anything.”

Morris later clarified on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he didn’t believe anybody was trying to hide anything, including Landry.

Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said in an interview he did not believe Miguez and Cloud would seek to bring their bills for a vote. Miguez told The Advocate he is considering his options.

Public records laws protect the public’s right to know what governments are doing. They’re part of “sunshine laws” that every state and the federal government have put in place to ensure transparency. Journalists and watchdog organizations use public records to investigate government efficiency and wrongdoing. Any citizen who has an interest in how their government operates can also request public records.

Cloud introduced amendments to her bill Monday afternoon, though they also were not voted on. Her bill is the broadest of the public records proposals. In its original state, it would have exempted most public records at all levels of government from disclosure.

While introducing the amendments, which would limit the bill to only shielding records related to the governor’s schedule, Cloud said Morris would be “picking up the torch.”

There has been no movement or public discussion of Miguez’s bill, which would limit public records access to Louisiana residents and require a photo ID before requests are fulfilled.

The three bills have been opposed by conservatives and liberal advocacy groups, as well as nonpartisan good-government groups such as the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, which panned Morris’ legislation in a rare rebuke.

“The public should be able to review and consider information about who the governor meets, who influences him and his staff and how they make decisions about using tax dollars and leading state government. That’s how Louisiana residents can hold their elected and appointed officials accountable. That’s how democracy functions properly,” the group wrote in a commentary.

If the Cloud or Miguez bills advance, they could be amended to allow for broader exemptions, but both face hurdles in the form of skeptical senators and time running out in the legislative session. With just three weeks remaining, controversial bills that have not yet cleared the chamber where they originated face a time crunch.

More likely to pass is House Bill 461 by Rep. Steven Jackson, D-Shreveport, which would exempt records related to local and parish economic development projects. It cleared the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee last week.

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