Limit sought on governor’s records exemption
BATON ROUGE, La. — Two lawmakers want to open more of the Louisiana governor’s office to scrutiny, proposing a bill that would limit the expansive public records exemption used by Gov. Bobby Jindal to hide nearly all documents in his office.
Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, an independent from Thibodaux, and Sen. Rick Gallot, a Democrat from Ruston, filed the measure this week to be considered in the legislative session that begins in April.
“It doesn’t really make a lot of sense that the governor’s records are shielded the way they are. And considering this is the ‘governor of transparency,’ I don’t understand why there would be attempts year after year after year to avoid the transparency that he’s run on,” Gallot said.
Under existing law, most of the documents and emails in the governor’s office are shielded from public view, with a broad exemption that hides anything considered part of the governor’s “deliberative process.” The argument is that internal decision-making is protected to allow for the free flow of ideas.
Richard’s and Gallot’s bill would strip that deliberative process exemption and shield only internal communication between the governor, his chief of staff and his executive counsel, for a period of up to 10 years. Security records and transportation details could be confidential for up to seven days. Records would be required to be maintained and archived.
A spokesman for Jindal didn’t respond to a question about whether the governor would support or oppose the public records legislation.
But Gallot, a lawmaker for more than a decade, acknowledged similar bills seeking to expand public access to governor’s office records have failed in past years with opposition from Jindal and his predecessors. He doesn’t necessarily expect improved chances this time.
“The reality is it probably doesn’t stand much of a chance of even making it out of committee, let alone out of the House and through the Senate,” Gallot said. “If nothing else it gives us the opportunity to have the conversation, and who’s to say that there might not be some version that is a compromise.”
When running for office in 2007, Jindal campaigned on improving government transparency in a state with a reputation for backroom political deals and public corruption.
Since then, the Republican governor has opposed attempts to open more of his office’s records. Jindal backed legislation in 2009 that rewrote the governor’s office public records exemption to assert the deliberative process privilege, and that language has been broadly interpreted and used to expand what can be kept from public view.
Records in departments outside the governor’s office have been withheld, and other agencies overseen by Jindal allies have started shielding documents by claiming the privilege and asserting it is established in federal and state case law.
The legal claim has been used to avoid turning over documents about controversial and politically sensitive topics, including the governor’s school voucher program, disagreements over the handling of a controversial tax credit program and budget cuts to the LSU health care system and privatization efforts at university-run hospitals.
Gallot said lawmakers didn’t intend for the deliberative process exemption written in 2009 to extend to agencies outside the governor’s immediate office. He called that “definitely a stretch.”
By MELINDA DESLATTE