When Gov. Bobby Jindal’s spokesman told The Advocate last week that the governor’s office played no role in a decision by the LSU Health System to deny public records requests regarding unprecedented changes and service reductions within the state’s public hospital system, he was being less than truthful.

The Advocate reports that it submitted a public records request in late September, seeking access to documents related to the system’s plan to strip more than $150 million from the operating budgets of seven charity hospitals in South Louisiana. The budget cuts will result in roughly 1,500 layoffs, a drastic reduction in the number of available beds and a push for public-private partnerships to cope with the loss in services for the state’s charity hospital patients.

The Baton Rouge newspaper noted last week that the records request was denied under the “deliberative process” clause so often used by the governor’s office when Jindal wants to shield communications from the public. The governor’s spokesman told The Advocate that Jindal’s office had no hand in the LSU System’s decision to deny the request, but a letter obtained by The Advocate tells a much different story:
The letter to LSU system President William Jenkins, obtained Friday by The Advocate, contradicts earlier assertions by Jindal administration officials that LSU decided on its own how to respond to requests to make the records available publicly. Jindal’s top lawyer, Executive Counsel Liz Murrill, reviewed the records before being released and suggested LSU use the “deliberative process privilege” as grounds to keep some records out of the public domain, the letter stated.

Deliberative process is a legal term that involves the internal agency mechanics of making a public policy decision. Supporters of the exemption argue that advisers would not feel as free to give unfettered advice if they knew their thoughts could be made public. Louisiana law protects deliberations in the Governor’s office and for agency officials’ recommendations to the governor.

When asked why, considering what the Jenkins letter stated, Plotkin said Friday that he was referring only to The Advocate’s request, not to the Jindal administration’s general stance of the release of public records.
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