Â The project relies on a quirky index reminiscent of the Weather Channel, with bright sunshine on one end of the spectrum (completely open) and a dark sky on the other (completely closed). Access to the Legislature is well above average, even though the constitutional provision calling for such openness does not directly identify the body by name. Availability of election records pulled from state voting machines is another area that scored high on the index. Louisiana falls largely in the middle in most categories, although a few ' children's records for medical examiners, certain computer records, gubernatorial documents ' are second-to-last on the index, dubbed as "nearly dark."
There are always a dozen or more bills filed in every regular session of the Legislature that seek to chip away at public access to government documents. Barry Erwin, president of a Council for a Better Louisiana, a nonprofit that monitors the activities of state government, says that persistence may be more dangerous than the actual intent of the bills.
"It is very disconcerting," Erwin says. "It seems there is always an effort to create an exemption or find a loophole. Some years are worse than others, and you never know what's going to come up. They just keep coming back again and again. The good news, though, is that most of these bad bills usually get killed."
Baton Rouge Rep. William Daniel was pushing legislation that would have excluded law enforcement personnel records from public view, including disciplinary actions, but he pulled it from consideration in the face of opposition from the Louisiana Press Association and others.
"I'm not going anywhere with that bill," Daniel confirms, making this the second consecutive year he has personally introduced and then withdrawn the concept.
As one door closes, however, another opens. Rep. Clo Fontenot, a Livingston Parish Republican, has a bill that would expunge certain files related to internal police department investigations. If an officer is accused of a wrongdoing, then later found innocent, the charge could be removed from the officer's jacket. "But if the accusations are true, they stay in the record," Fontenot says.
Â Not only would the information be erased from documents available to the public for viewing, it would also be shielded from superiors and future employers.
Â On the state level, the Insurance Department wants to close off certain public records connected to companies that do business with the Louisiana Casualty and Surety Rating Commission. The measure by New Orleans Democratic Rep. Karen Carter, a New Orleans Democrat, identifies "biographical information" as being exempt from sunshine laws but offers no definition of the term.
Additionally, the Department of Transportation and Development has a set of bills filed for the session that would prohibit preconstruction estimates from being viewed by the public until all bids on the project are received.
Some of these concepts might not look like much on the surface, but Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says they set a dangerous precedent if approved and applied the wrong way.Â
"It all depends on the legislative intent, but any time an exception is being made to government operating in the open, that should immediately raise questions," Cook says. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and it pays to be vigilant any time the Legislature is in session."
On the flip side, a few current bills aim to further open up government to public inspection ' but aren't gaining much traction. A bill that would have made public certain documents in the governor's office ' just like the way all other state agencies are treated ' met a quiet defeat earlier this month.
Terry Ryder, executive counsel to Gov. Kathleen Blanco, rattles off a number of reasons that helped lawmakers torpedo the proposal. Information shared in the executive branch is sensitive, he tells them, and answering public requests of that nature would be too time-consuming for the staff. But most of all, the governor's ability to receive information freely would be obstructed.Â Â
Rep. Mert Smiley, a Republican from Port Vincent, notes an irony in the administration's opposition. He recalls how Blanco was elected as a reformer and how she has made ethics a central platform in nearly every session.
"I couldn't think of any way better to show transparency than this," Smiley says, referring to the defeated legislation.
New Orleans Rep. Peppi Bruneau has filed another version of the bill that would allow Blanco's personal records to remain sealed but open up all other sections of her office.
The ultimate responsibility of keeping an open government resides with the voters, who have the final say in how government should operate. Cook contends it is the only way to ensure accountability.
"Any time the government tries to do business behind closed doors and knock out the sunshine, it is a threat to freedom and democracy and accountability," Cook says. "Never forget: these people work for us and they should answer to us."
The world is a politically tense place these days with hot spots ranging from the Middle East to Ukraine. In Louisiana and Mississippi, where the political chessboard tends to be a lot less threatening and at times entertaining, this election season is living up to expectations.
American companies export smog; UN calls for cease-fire in Gaza; fist bump keeps germ transfer down and more national and international news for Monday, July 28, 2014.
Monday's Blogs from the Bog!
Louisiana has joined nine other states in support of Indiana’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that the Hoosier State’s ban on sam-sex marriage violates the Constitution.
The Saints are being cautious in an effort to minimize risk of re-injury.
LSU Health Sciences Center says people with a common, hard-to-treat kind of lung cancer can join a new national trial to test drugs faster.
As New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis spoke about the opening of training camp, steep, tree-covered mountains were in full view behind them.
The family of fallen cyclist Lon Lomas is speaking out after the release this week of the man charged with his death.
"The solutions are obvious: undo consolidation, or amend the charter to make this hybrid attempt at a new form of government work better."
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is considering whether to get involved in a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal for his attempts to undermine use of the Common Core education standards in Louisiana's public schools.
The latest meeting of a south Louisiana flood board that stirred political turmoil with a lawsuit against the oil and gas industry is taking place amid uncertainty over the future of the lawsuit — and the board's own membership.
The photos taken nearly a mile under the Gulf of Mexico are so clear that small holes are visible in a lifeboat that may have gone down or been scuttled when a passenger ship was sunk by a Nazi submarine in 1942.
Advocate columnist and Jindal shill Quin Hillyer has been against the New Orleans levee board lawsuit from day one, but a recent piece targeting author/activist John Barry prompted the perfect rebuttal from the board’s former vice-president, who takes Hillyer to task on just about every distorted claim he’s made on the issue.
Thousands of people who bought health insurance through the marketplace created by the federal health care overhaul face price hikes next year that could top 10 percent.
Louisiana fell one spot in an annual national ranking of child well-being that looks at poverty, education and health access.
A federal judge has decided he doesn't need to hear more arguments in the case of a gay couple who want a Louisiana marriage license.
Saints again bring playoff aspirations into 2014 campaign.
New details in the case against the man arrested for last week’s bomb threat and bank robbery has surfaced, including a MidSouth Bank surveillance video showing the alleged suspect attempt an early-morning bank robbery.
Parents and teachers who support the Common Core education standards sued Gov. Bobby Jindal Tuesday over his actions against the multi-state standards, accusing him of illegally meddling in education policy.
An arrest was announced this morning in connection with last week’s bomb scare at UL Lafayette.
Attorneys, judges and others interviewed by LaPolitics expect 15 to 20 district judge races this year.
"I feel like I'm under siege," an attorney said recently over drinks at Galatoire's Bistro in Baton Rouge. "We all do. Every time I turn around somebody wants a check. District attorney races. The judges. They're killing us."
As a requirement for running for Congress in the 6th District, former Gov. Edwin Edwards has filed his financial disclosure statement with the U.S. House showing his income in 2013 totaling $242,787.
Unlike those swindled by Bernie Madoff, the victims of Texas businessman Robert Allen Stanford’s Ponzi scheme won’t be getting any relief from the Securities Investor Protection Corp.’s emergency fund after a recent appellate court ruling.
The legal challenge is part of a continuing struggle over Common Core, which has become controversial since the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the standards in 2010.