Committee derails website posting bill

A Louisiana House committee rejected legislation Tuesday that would require all government entities to post on their websites the minutes of public hearings.

“This is a win for the special interests, the newspapers,” state Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, said minutes after his legislation received only one vote on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.

House Bill 923 would require governmental entities with websites to post the minutes of their meetings.

The measure ran into opposition when being heard in another committee. So, Ivey had HB923 shifted to House and Governmental Affairs and received another hearing.

“The only reason the (Louisiana) Press Association is against this boils down to the fear of the elimination of the official journal,” Ivey said.

Many newspapers, including The Advocate, are paid to print government documents, such as meeting notices and minutes.

Ivey said the fear is once the local governments put the documents on their own websites that, down the road, the agencies will find that publishing an official journal is unnecessary.

Ivey said he offered the possibility of changing his bill to require publication of the minutes in the official journal first.

Pamela Mitchell, executive director of the Louisiana Press Association, argued that most public bodies are required by law to print their meeting minutes. “This bill is just not needed,” she said.

Additionally, Mitchell said, the proposed system could risk having more than one version, the published and the Web-posted, that could have differences yet both be considered official.

“One official version, for it to be verified, authenticated and be in print is going to best serve everyone,” she said.

“On the surface, this sounds great,” said Sam Hanna Jr., who publishes newspapers in Ouachita, Franklin and Concordia parishes. “But it also sounds like another mandate.”

Some smaller towns, strapped for revenue, may not be able to afford to keep the websites open, he said.

State Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said he had met with citizens groups in Lacombe that had told him they wanted access not only to minutes and agendas but to contract bids and other governmental documents via the Web.

“This is just the start. They want way more than minutes,” said Schroder, who cast the lone yes vote.

“I don’t know where this becomes a threat to the newspapers.”

Daniel Hayes, of Metairie and a Libertarian in his politics, said he was watching online the debate over making the Bible Louisiana’s state book, when he came across Ivey’s bill. He said he agreed with the concept and reached out to help.

“Nothing against newspapers, but the market will decide,” Hayes said, adding that people should be able to go directly to the government agency that interests them to get the data they want.

“This is the future,” Hayes said, waving his iPad.