Lawmakers scheduled eight bills for House and Senate committee hearings today that are related to public records and public meetings. Good government advocates and lobbyists for the working press can be found on both sides of the policy proposals, but they collectively represent a much larger trend playing out at the Capitol.
“The number of bills is incredibly concerning,” said Scott Sternberg, general counsel to the Louisiana Press Association and a First Amendment attorney.
There are at least 12 instruments filed for the session that directly target so-called sunshine laws—and lawmakers can still request an additional five bills each be filed in their names before April 2.
Why the sudden surge? It’s a question Capitol observers are having a difficult time answering. Some of the bills are coming from the municipal level, sparked by officials who claim to be drowning in public records requests. Other proposals are the result of media coverage around the state, like stories pertaining to high-profile economic development deals and the recent wave of sexual harassment lawsuits.
As part of the ongoing discussions about Louisiana’s ailing budget, and the need for either higher taxes or cuts or both, transparency is being couched as an anecdote. Statements such as this are being asked at the Capitol on a regular basis: “How can we cut government if we’re not allowed to see all of the government’s expenditures and operations?” Read more...