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For the Record: New bill in Louisiana would exempt economic development projects from the state’s public record law

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In a continuing series on proposed and final changes to state public records laws, MuckRock’s For the Record column is going to Louisiana to understand potential changes there.

Across the country, MuckRock has tracked new legislation in Colorado and Kentucky and what’s next for public records laws in New Jersey, Utah and Arkansas.

Want to know how open your local government is? MuckRock provides guides for each U.S. state and territory, including average response time to a request, whether public records laws apply to the state’s executive and legislative branches and more.


What the bill would do:

Louisiana House Bill 461 would limit public access to a local government’s “active” negotiations in economic development projects.

The exemptions from Louisiana’s public record law would include “certain documents related to economic development negotiations by local government” and allows the documents to be deemed confidential if a person or a company “requests such confidentiality in writing detailing the reasons such person requests confidentiality and asserting that the negotiation is conditioned in whole or in part on the maintenance of such confidentiality.”

The bill would also exempt “records of expenses of the local government pertaining to the negotiation … until the negotiations are concluded.”

The local government would also be required to notify the public about the agreement of confidentiality. The government would have to “publish on its website and in its official journal a notice containing general information regarding each negotiation to which records are confidential” and would be required to publish “no later than ten days after the determination of confidentiality.”

Why it was introduced:

Introduced by state Rep. Steven Jackson (D-Shreveport), House Bill 461 “provides for the confidentiality of documents related to local and parish economic development projects.”

Jackson told the Louisiana Illuminator that he sponsored the bill because “when he served on a local government board, consultants from other jurisdictions would file public records requests to find out what incentives they were offering a business.”

Then those same consultants would “use the information for competitive purposes or to lure the project away,” Jackson said.

How Freedom of Information advocates view the legislation:

Many Freedom of Information advocates don’t agree with Jackson, and see House Bill 461 as another way to curtail Louisiana’s public records law.

Nonpartisan watchdog group American Oversight released a statement from its interim executive director, Chioma Chukwu, condemning the new House bill.

“It provides politicians an alarming amount of leeway to conceal negotiations about business deals — paid for with taxpayer dollars — until those deals are finalized,” Chukwu said.

“The people of Louisiana have a right to know how their government is operating, and we condemn this effort to weaken Louisiana’s Public Records Law by giving local officials power to declare vital public documents confidential.”

What’s next:

The Louisiana House of Representatives passed House Bill 461 on April 11 and sent it to the state Senate for consideration.

The Update

FOIA Finds

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  • Investigating lethal restraint: The Associated Press along with the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism program at the University of Maryland and Arizona State University, and FRONTLINE filed nearly 7,000 requests for government documents and body-camera footage, as part of their lethal restraint investigation.

  • Public records reveal scammers posing as SEC employees: Through a public-records request to the Security and Exchange Commission, Bloomberg’s Jason Leopold, writing in his”FOIA Files” column, describes how he obtained documents that reveal fraudsters have posed as commissioners and top officials and tricked victims into handing over tens of thousands of dollars.