SPJ condemns public records access bill

Published 2:29 pm Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Louisiana chapter of Society of Professional Journalists is urging state legislators to reject a bill that would neutralize the intent of the state’s Public Records Act and make government far less transparent.

The bill, SB482 by state Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, would exempt from the existing law “deliberative” internal actions at all levels of government in the state. It was reported favorably last week on a 6-2 vote by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and is now awaiting Senate approval.

“The expedited timeline is curious given the importance and far-reaching implications of this bill,” said Sergy Odiduro of Arcadia, the SPJ chapter president, “and ultimately it raises the question, what’s the rush? What are they trying to hide?

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“Public officials are implicitly beholden to those that they have been elected to serve and transparency is a key component to ensuring that there is accountability,” she added.  “SB482 is clearly on a collision course with the rights of Louisiana’s electorate and we urge all defenders of transparency to vote against this upcoming broad-based measure.”

“This measure is clearly aimed at the news media,” said Robert Buckman, Ph.D., the chapter vice president and a retired journalism professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “It’s fashionable these days to vilify the press as ‘the enemy of the people,’ but it is not. It is the people’s ally and watchdog on governmental abuse and corruption, which is all too common in Louisiana. This state needs more transparency, certainly not less. This bill is dangerous.

“How can it be that after 84 years with this law on the books under Democratic and Republican governors, Gov. Jeff Landry now regards the public’s right of access as a ‘failure of government’?” he added.

The Public Records Act was enacted in 1940 during the first administration of Gov. Jimmie Davis, a year after a corruption scandal led to the resignation of Gov. Richard Leche and his later conviction on federal mail fraud charges. Davis was elected governor in 1939 as head of a reform ticket. SPJ was founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi and is the country’s leading organization of professional journalists. It is dedicated to championing First Amendment rights and upholding journalistic standards.