Saturday, July 13, 2024

Only Louisiana residents will be able to request the governor’s records

by BIZ Magazine

PIPER HUTCHINSON – Louisiana Illuminator

In the span of less than 45 minutes on the last day of their legislative session, Louisiana lawmakers introduced and adopted a last-minute proposal Monday crafted in a closed-door meeting to prohibit non-Louisiana residents from requesting public records from the governor’s office.

House Bill 767 by Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, was originally designed to broaden security exemptions in state public records law for statewide elected officials. But after the bill was sent to a conference committee, where three lawmakers from each chamber met privately to reach a compromise, it emerged with a provision similar to bills that had stalled in the Senate under immense public scrutiny.

The new language was adopted in the House of Representatives on a 79-19 vote and gained unanimous support in the Senate, although several senators criticized the bill during discussion.

Under the latest version of the bill, which now heads to Republican Gov. Jeff Landry’s desk for approval, requesters must be Louisiana residents to obtain public records from the governor’s office. They will need a government-issued photo ID to prove their residence.

Kate Kelly, a spokesperson for Landry, has not yet responded to a request for comment for this report.

“Companies outside of Louisiana use public records requests to gather information. To the extent HB 767 hampers this flow of information, it could deter businesses from Louisiana,” Steven Procopio, president of the good government group Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana said in a statement. “This might not be a problem, but more discussion would have been helpful.”

The legislation received pushback primarily from Democrats, who raised concerns it could inhibit national investigative journalism. Louisiana and its criminal justice system are often the target of in-depth investigations that bring the nation’s attention to a state with the highest incarceration rate.

Private citizens, watchdog groups and various advocacy organizations — all with a variety of political leanings — use public records requests and are likely to be hampered by the new law.

Emerson and Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, who carried the bill in the Senate, argued the proposal is necessary because the governor’s office has become “inundated” with public records requests.

Sen. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, pointed out the Legislature gave the governor’s office an additional $1 million to hire more lawyers to work on public records requests.

“It seems like we’ve given [Landry’s office] the resources they need to have a response to these public records requests,” Carter said.

Any documentation a requester submits to verify their identity would not become a public record. The proposal gives the governor’s office one year to destroy this documentation.

“I am particularly unclear on why the state needs to hold onto a resident’s information for a year,” Procopio said.

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