The Louisiana Press Association is crying foul over a bill working its way through the Legislature that many see as an erosion of the state’s sunshine laws. The Senate & Government Affairs Committee heard Senate Bill 583 this week, but deferred it until next week. SB 583, by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, would allow committees of four persons or less — specially focused panels appointed by public bodies like city councils and often comprising members of those councils — to hold “informal” meetings in private to discuss public matters, and to schedule such meetings without public notice. Peterson crafted the bill at the request of the New Orleans City Council, which uses four-person committees and which evidently perceives Louisiana’s public meetings law as cumbersome.
The LPA is warning that if passed SB 583 would allow such committees to “just run rough shod over the open meetings law.”
“Mark our words,” the LPA goes on to warn, “if this bill passes four-person or less committees will be formed at every governmental level and public business will all be conducted in private under the guise of information/discussion.”
The bill was amended this week to include the language allow such committees to comprise four members or fewer, although those amendments are not reflected in the version of the bill posted on the Legislature’s Web site.
Linda Lightfoot, the LPA’s freedom of information consultant, wrote the following editorial regarding the matter:
A perceived problem with the way in which the New Orleans City Council committees would like to operate has prompted a bill that would apply to all public bodies in the state and create a serious loophole in the public meetings law.
Under Senate bill 583 by Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, a public body with four or fewer members (most likely a committee or subcommittee) could meet privately, without giving public notice, provided the members don’t make a decision or take a vote.
The seven-member New Orleans City Council operates with four-member committees. They would like to chat among themselves without having to include the public. They say they are afraid that such conversations may violate the current law. Whether casual talks among members would violate the current law is open to question. But the Peterson bill would go way beyond casual chats and it could lead to the creation of four member committees all over the state to take advantage of the loophole.
If her bill were to become law, a committee with four or fewer members that now must open its meetings to the public, could meet privately and thrash out a controversial item that affects their constituents. Or, a committee could meet and receive proposals from third parties — proposals that could affect constituents’ property rights, business interests, their childrens’ education or an unlimited number of other interests. Whether a vote is taken is not the point. The people would miss the information they need to understand and judge the decisions made by their public officials.
When the controversial item, discussed privately in committee, would come before the full council or school board or other public entity, the public would be deprived of an opportunity to adequately assess the reasons for it or to check out any third parties who stand to benefit from it. When a public body is going to act, people interested in or affected by a proposal, should have adequate time to frame their support or their objections.
Perhaps the most cogent argument against Peterson’s bill is found in the public meetings law itself: “It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.”
To post a comment, please log into your IND account. If you do not have an account, click the "register" button to create one. Facebook comments can be used as an alternative to creating an account at theIND.com.
JUL 23 This post on Mashable says Louisiana is poised to be the next (and better) Hollywood. Sure, blogger Travis Andrews is talking Louisiana in general, but the focus really is on New Orleans. And that's fine, because if NOLA and Hollywood get into a ambiance/food/style/crazy contest, we like NOLA's chances.
JUL 23 Here's New York Magazine's profile of Edwin Edwards, a well-written, thoughtful (and still unvarnished) look at Louisiana's most famous felon. There's a lot of history, but author Mark Jacobson doesn't get bogged down in pedantic rehashes here. It's a really good read.
JUL 23 Tom Aswell turns over his blog to Fred Aldrich for this post, in which Aldrich offers his critique of State Police Commander Mike Edmonson's recent radio appearance. During that visit, Edmonson commented upon the 11th-hour bill that added $30K to his annual retirement income. Spoiler alert: Aldrich was not impressed.
JUL 23 Blogger CB Forgotston has more on the Edmonson retirement issue in this post. This time, he's trying to ascertain exactly who offered the 11th-hour amendment that added $30K to the State Police chief's annual retirement check. Six legislators are claiming that a Senate staffer stuck it in, CB says.
JUL 23 Choice Foundation, which owns and operates charter schools, filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing Bobby Jindal of overstepping his bounds in cancelling Common Core, the Washington Post reports here. The lawsuit (there's a link to it here) alleges that Jindal does not have the authority to remove the curriculum from Louisiana.
JUL 23 Here's an interesting perspective on the 2015 governor's race from Picayune reporter Julia O'Donoghue. She's looking at David Vitter, John Bel Edwards and Jay Dardenne. But instead of looking at their differences, she's examining their similarities.
JUL 23 Here are the first jewels unearthed from the Vault, a new database of public records that The Lens is making available. In this post, The Lens is taking a look at what municipal employees are paid over in NOLA. There's some pretty interesting stuff here.
JUL 23 Blogger Stephen Sabludowsky is attempting to clear away some of the smoke that Bobby Jindal's been blowing about our economy. The press releases and "presidential campaign claims" of Jindal notwithstanding, the outlook is not that rosy, Sabludowsky says. He's got some comment here from the head of GNO Inc. as well.
JUL 22 This is a fascinating piece in the Picayune about the murder of a doctor in her St. Charles Avenue home 50 years ago. It's fascinating because of the mysteries and myths that have swirled around the incident for those decades, and because of the possible connection to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. There are a lot of interesting names in here, including Ochsner and Marcello, and as usual the comments below the story are nearly as entertaining as the story itself.
JUL 22 The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is "a lock" to win the Sun Belt Conference in football, Fox Sports opines in this post. There's a rundown of the other teams in the conference, but ULL is predicted to win the conference, thanks in large part to an "explosive" offense. Is it football season yet?
JUL 22 Columnist Stephanie Grace says Gov. Bobby Jindal may be meeting with state education officials (hey - you mean HIS education officials, don't you, Steph?) but it is clear he's not looking for a solution in the Common Core fracas. Bobby wants an issue he can take on the road, and this one seems to be it, she says.
JUL 22 Here's a love letter from New York Daily News' Alex Palmer to Louisiana. In some ways it is the typical tourism article (with pronunciation guides and food definitions) but in another way it goes beyond that to list lesser-known spots to visit for food or tours.
Read the Flipping Paper!
Click Here for the Entire Print Version of IND Monthly