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Editorial: Make government more responsive

Last Modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 6:00 PM

One of the most frustrating aspects of government is finding and obtaining government documents. A new law may just help make government more responsive to citizens needing to obtain a government record.

State Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 129, that the state Legislature approved unanimously in June. It requires government agencies to make it easy for citizens to find out online how they can file public records requests, by identifying who on the website is the custodian of those records.

Broadwater, who is a first-term Republican, said the law is already getting results. He found a record’s custodian listed on each of several major websites: the Louisiana House and Senate, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Attorney General and the Louisiana Department of Insurance.

The legislator concluded: “In state government, we have some state agencies that are doing an excellent job. And we have some that need improvement. And I suspect that’s what you would find throughout the state if you checked every public body.”

Broadwater also found mixed results in randomly checking local government websites.

He filed the bill after one of his constituents, C.B. Forgotston, complained that he repeatedly ran into problems when trying to file public records requests.

“It takes a long time finding out who the custodian of public records is [on a website] so you don’t send it to the wrong person,” said Forgotston, an attorney and blogger who has worked as a lobbyist and senior legislative aide. “The person who isn’t the custodian has no responsibility to even respond. You don’t know if they’re stonewalling you. It’s a delaying tactic to keep you from knowing who the custodian is. I’ve learned that the first thing is you have to make a request to find out who the custodian is.” By typing “public records request” in the search box, he found a link for filing one.

“It was not difficult to identify,” Broadwater said. “Any citizen could do that.”

Broadwater was especially pleased that the state House and Senate quickly complied with the resolution.

“If the Legislature says you should do this, its own House should be in order,” House Clerk Alfred Speer explained.

This is law is an excellent way to make transparency in state government work. All citizens need to know their right and take advantage of this law.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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