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Louisiana Senate backs new limits on governor's ability to shield documents from the public

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — The governor's ability to keep documents in his office hidden from the public should be much more limited, the Louisiana Senate decided Wednesday.

With no debate, senators voted 35-0 to scale back the broad public records exemptions granted to the governor's office in current law. The vote sends the proposal by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, next to the House for consideration.

If passed there, it wouldn't impact Gov. Bobby Jindal. Instead, the changes would begin when a new governor, to be elected this fall, takes office Jan. 11.

The bill would keep the governor's communications with internal staff exempt from disclosure. But it would get rid of several exemptions introduced into public records law in a 2009 revamp backed by Jindal.

Claitor's bill would remove an exemption that gives executive branch departments a six-month blackout period on budget documents. It also would do away with language that hides records considered part of a governor's "deliberative process." Agencies outside of Jindal's office have claimed that exemption, even though it's not granted to them in law.

The Jindal administration has described the deliberative process exemption as a way to protect the free flow of ideas and discussions that help the governor make decisions. But the language has been more broadly interpreted than lawmakers say they intended.

"We went down the wrong path. Here's an opportunity to reverse that," Claitor said in his brief description of the bill.

Under the measure, even internal communications and exempted records would have to be retained for the state archives, and they would be available for review eight years after their creation.

The governor's schedule would be protected for up to seven days after the event, to address security concerns.

The four major candidates vying to be Louisiana's next governor have said they back efforts to curtail the governor's public records exemptions.


Online:

Senate Bill 190 can be found at http://www.legis.la.gov

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