Legislation that would expand public access to records of the Governor’s Office hit a key milestone this week.
The Senate on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 190 in a 35-0 vote without debate, sending the proposal to the House for consideration.
The legislation would remove a shield in the state public records law that has been used to deny access to most documents from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office.
State lawmakers and government transparency advocates have for several years pushed back against the “deliberative process” exemption, which Jindal’s administration inserted into the state law in 2009.
Sen. Dan Claitor said the intention had been to open the Governor’s Office to more transparency than it faces today.
“We went down the wrong path. Here’s an opportunity to correct that,” said Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.
Shortly after Jindal was elected on a platform pushing transparency and open government, he backed an overhaul of Louisiana’s public records law that redefined the Governor’s Office exemptions, shielding communication that would be considered part of the “deliberative process.”
The exemption was recently used to deny The Advocate’s request for emails Jindal sent during his two terms in office.
Thomas Enright, Jindal’s chief lawyer, wrote in response to The Advocate’s request that no records existed outside of those exemptions outlined in the state public records law.
“Aside from the obvious reason for excluding security information, these content-based exemptions support the environment of open discussion and full analysis necessary for staff to make recommendations to assist the governor in the usual course of the duties and business of his office,” Enright wrote in the denial.
The same exemption was later used to deny a request from The Advocate for any documents related to Jindal’s cellphone usage this year, including itemized bills.
The proposed change, which would open up most records — particularly those that have an impact on the state budget, would take effect next year when Jindal leaves office.
It states that any record related to the budget, including communications between the Legislative Auditor’s Office and the Governor’s Office, would be a public record.
Under SB190, records that previously have been exempted, including those from Jindal’s time in office, would become public in eight years.
Each of the four major candidates for governor have expressed support for increased transparency in the governor’s office.
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