A bill that would alter access to the Louisiana governor’s official records received final approval from the state Senate Monday, and is on its way to the governor’s desk.
The public records law now exempts from disclosure all but the financial records the governor’s office maintains. Under the proposed change, the only exempt records would be those pertaining to the governor’s security, schedule, communications among staff and "executive deliberations and work product."
The bill also allows the governor to withhold for six months any records of "pre-decisional advice and recommendations" provided by advisers or other agencies on budget matters. Gov. Bobby Jindal has been an active supporter of the bill.
Critics contend the measure purports to narrow the governor’s exemption but actually takes more items out of the public domain.
Carl Redman, executive editor of the Baton Rouge Advocate, called the measure "horribly convoluted." He said the "vague" definition of documents now up for exemption will allow for more sweeping interpretations, and that in turn will translate into more records withheld.
"What’s the governor’s job? He decides things. Any document having to do with his job will be part of the deliberative process," Redman said. "Any kind of pre-decisional advice the governor gets, regardless of the source, becomes part of this decisional process. That can extend to any place in state government or local government for that matter."
The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, an independent state research group, posted a written commentary on its Web site in May warning that the bill "could have devastating effects on the status of public records and should be rejected."
Redman and Ann Heath, of the research council, both pointed out that the six-month block on budget advice could allow the governor to quickly move measures involving tax dollars to the Legislature for approval — before taxpayers have the opportunity to understand, let alone influence, the decision.
"That six months of absolute darkness, that by itself is enough for us to be against it," Redman said.
"This bill to us is very damaging," Heath said. "We were really not happy when this bill came out."
Despite such criticism, the Louisiana Press Association backed the bill and said it is an improvement from current law.
"Some things could have been stronger; we would like the records to be open immediately," said Pamela Mitchell-Wagner, the executive director of the Louisiana Press Association. "Previously the records were all exempt based on custody, and now it’s content-based. And that’s why we feel it is a move in the right direction."