topspayback80.042117.jpg (copy)

Senate Education Committee member Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, speaking Thursday, April 20, 2017 during a committee hearing at the state Capitol.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

A dispute on whether state officials should have routine access to video recordings in early learning centers is about to heat up again.

State Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, has filed a bill for the 2018 regular legislative session that would impose strict rules to get the recordings and require officials of the state Department of Education to obtain an administrative search warrant.

The measure is backed by the Childcare Association of Louisiana, which represents operators of child care centers.

Looking at a video recording, "you are not seeing the whole picture," said Cindy Bishop, executive director of the group.

"There is a lot of room for misinterpretation and subjective interpretation," Bishop said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday reiterated his view that state officials should be able to see the videos.

"I can't imagine why it wouldn't be in the public's interest," said Gary Jones, who lives in Alexandria. "We are putting money into those programs."

The debate will play out when the regular session begins March 12.

The argument stems from a rule that BESE adopted in August.

The state has about 1,500 licensed child care centers, and cameras are not required.

Under the change, recordings were added to the list of items available to state inspectors for the 25 percent or so of centers that have them.

Backers said it is critical for state officials to have access to the recordings to keep children safe. They also said videos can shed light on whether operators responded properly.

Opponents said video systems were installed for the benefit of operators, not for parents or the state.

Mizell said she hoped her request for an attorney general's opinion would shed light on the dispute.

But the five-page opinion, which was issued in December, failed to settle the issue. Attorney General Jeff Landry's office concluded that a video recording may be considered a record. But whether that recording can be viewed as part of a routine inspection is dependent on whether doing so would further Louisiana's "regulatory scheme," it says.

Inspections are limited in scope, Landry's office said, but absent any regulations on video recordings, "we are unable to determine whether the inspections of video recordings have a properly defined scope."

Mizell's bill is aimed at creating rules to govern access to the recordings.

The measure, Senate Bill 71, would require state officials to get an administrative search warrant if they sought a recording and were turned down by an early learning center operator.

In addition, any state request would have to focus on a specific incident, including the date, time, location and people involved.

The legislation would ban state officials from using the recordings for "regular inspection purposes" or to develop a center's quality rating.

Mizell was unavailable for comment.

Sydni Dunn, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said in an email, “Nothing is more important than the safety of children. We look forward to discussing the issue further in the Legislature.”

Bishop said the cameras have limited value because they do not cover the entire center.

"So camera recordings should not be used to make determinations on supervision, child/staff ratios, all the things you could be cited for," she said.

Alan Young, legislative chairman for the association, praised the legislation.

"This is a privacy issue," said Young, who operates a center in Shreveport.

"The system was not put in for the benefit of the state," he said. "The systems were put in for the benefit of the owner."

BESE may take a position on Mizell's proposal when it meets March 12-13.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.