House committee rejects governor records bill

Show caption
/

A state House panel Tuesday rejected legislation that would have opened most records of the Governor’s Office to the public.

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 3 for and 6 against the measure.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top lawyer opposed the measure, which would have eliminated a “deliberative process” exception the Governor’s Office is using to keep records not only in his office but those in executive branch agencies off-limit to the public.

House Bill 19 would have repealed a broad public records law exception, which shields internal processes that go into making a decision from disclosure. Jindal inserted the provision into the law in 2009.

Under current law, the privilege applies to records used, possessed or retained for use by the governor in the decision-making process.

The legislation would have kept certain records of the executive office of the governor relating to intraoffice communications off-limits to the public.

“It’s the people’s right to know what is going on in the Governor’s Office,” said bill sponsor state Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux.

“It’s a matter of good government,” said state Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, a bill co-sponsor. “At the end of the day, this is the people’s government, the people’s money.”

Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright said the Governor’s Office needs the “deliberative process” exception so there can be an “unfettered” exchange between the governor and his staff as decisions are made. “All ideas welcome ... You’ve got a good idea. You’ve got a bad idea,” he said.

Proponents of the legislation argued that the governor should be subject to the same public records rules as other public officials.

They also pointed to Jindal’s use of the law to stop agencies under his control from responding to public records requests, including intervening to stop LSU from releasing information related to public hospital budget cuts and privatization efforts.

“The administration is pushing it out into the agencies,” said The Advocate’s executive editor Carl Redman, who chairs the Louisiana Press Association’s Freedom of Information Committee.

“If this trend goes unchecked, every bureaucrat is going to be marking documents off-limits,” Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott added.

Scott said the administration’s expanded use of “deliberative process” is attracting negative attention nationally.

“It’s going to hurt this state,” said Scott, who said PAR took no position on HB19.

Redman and Scott also complained about the current law provision that keeps records related to state budget development secret for too long.

“Bring our state’s law in line with his (Jindal’s) touted transparency,” said Brad Ott, director of Advocates for Louisiana Public Health Care.

Voting for repealing a broad public records law exception: State Reps. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales, Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, and John Schroder, R-Covington.

Voting against HB19: State Reps. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia; Michael Danahay, D-Sulphur; Girod Jackson, D-Harvey; Gregory Miller, R-Norco; and Steve Pugh, R-Ponchatoula.