Lawmakers seek to limit Jindal's records exemption

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Two lawmakers want to open more of the Louisiana governor's office to scrutiny, proposing a bill that would

limit the expansive public records exemption used by Gov. Bobby Jindal to hide nearly all documents in his office.

Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard, an independent from Thibodaux, and Sen. Rick Gallot, a Democrat from Ruston, filed the measure

this week to be considered in the legislative session that begins in April.

"It doesn't really make a lot of sense that

the governor's records are shielded the way they are. And considering

this is

the 'governor of transparency,' I don't understand why there would

be attempts year after year after year to avoid the transparency

that he's run on," Gallot said.

Under existing law, most of the documents

and emails in the governor's office are shielded from public view, with a

broad

exemption that hides anything considered part of the governor's

"deliberative process." The argument is that internal decision-making

is protected to allow for the free flow of ideas.

Richard's and Gallot's bill would strip that

deliberative process exemption and shield only internal communication

between

the governor, his chief of staff and his executive counsel, for a

period of up to 10 years. Security records and transportation

details could be confidential for up to seven days. Records would

be required to be maintained and archived.

A spokesman for Jindal didn't directly respond to a question about whether the governor would support or oppose the public

records legislation, instead saying the governor's office was reviewing bills as they are introduced.

But Gallot, a lawmaker for more than a decade, acknowledged similar bills seeking to expand public access to governor's office

records have failed in past years with opposition from Jindal and his predecessors. He doesn't necessarily expect improved

chances this time.

"The reality is it probably doesn't stand much of a chance of even making it out of committee, let alone out of the House

and through the Senate," Gallot said. "If nothing else it gives us the opportunity to have the conversation, and who's to

say that there might not be some version that is a compromise."

When running for office in 2007, Jindal

campaigned on improving government transparency in a state with a

reputation for backroom

political deals and public corruption.

Since then, the Republican governor has

opposed attempts to open more of his office's records. Jindal backed

legislation in

2009 that rewrote the governor's office public records exemption

to assert the deliberative process privilege, and that language

has been broadly interpreted and used to expand what can be kept

from public view.

Records in departments outside the governor's office have been withheld, and other agencies overseen by Jindal allies have

started shielding documents by claiming the privilege and asserting it is established in federal and state case law.

The legal claim has been used to avoid

turning over documents about controversial and politically sensitive

topics, including

the governor's school voucher program, disagreements over the

handling of a controversial tax credit program and budget cuts

to the LSU health care system and privatization efforts at

university-run hospitals.

Gallot said lawmakers didn't intend for the deliberative process exemption written in 2009 to extend to agencies outside the

governor's immediate office. He called that "definitely a stretch."