Gov. Bobby Jindal quietly announced the veto of a highly controversial public records bill around 6:30 p.m. Friday, snuffing the collective hope of lawmakers who wanted to add more transparency in the way communications related to the BP oil spill are being handled by the executive branch. The provision was added to a House bill during the regular session’s closing days last week by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, and produced a barrage of editorials statewide and endorsements from good government groups.
House Bill 37 by Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco, was originally filed to establish a timeline for how long the state has to maintain certain inmate records, but Adley’s amendment turned the bill into a legislative vehicle that spurred heated exchanges in both chambers.
In his official veto letter, issued after the State Capitol press corps typically retires for the weekend, Jindal called the Deepwater Horizon incident “a man-made event” and included only two sentences from the governor justifying the veto. “This bill would allow BP and other parties with potential liability to the state to obtain information retained by any state agency responding to this tragic event,” the governor writes. “Such access could impair the state’s legal position both in responding to the disaster that is unfolding and in seeking remedies for economic injury and natural resource damage.”
Adley, who could not be reached for comment Friday evening, said during the session that he wanted the amendment because the BP rig explosion and subsequent oil leak had become the “greatest catastrophe in the state’s history,” and it would go on to impact generations of residents. “The public should know what’s going on,” said Adley.
His amendment would have targeted “any records having been used, being in use, or retained for use by the office of the governor or any other executive branch agency in the usual course of the duties and business of the office or agency.”
Adley was among the lawmakers pushing to open up more records — in general — in the governor’s office this session, and it was a move Jindal opposed and the Senate rejected. Although Jindal has ushered in legislation to make the House and Senate two of the most transparent chambers in the nation, he has repeatedly opposed measures opening up records in his own office.
As a result, national rankings show some disparity. Earlier this year the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics named Jindal among its 11 worst U.S. governors, specifically noting the public records exemptions enjoyed by the executive branch.