06 May 2009

Committee action, May 6: SB 278, SB 205, SB 314

SB 278 by Sen. Jody Amedee would increase transparency for records in the governor’s office. Currently, basically the entire office is covered. He said to the Senate Government and Affairs Committee that only a few matters would be left exempt such as scheduling, executive deliberations, etc. – in general, work products. This confidentiality allows for more creative discussion and would reduce public confusion from “premature” ideas and lows for judging by decisions, not decision-making process.

Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth pointed out the blanket condition was created many years ago, flowing from the Constitution but made broader by statute. He said what was needed was a functional exemption that was based on the use of the document rather that who had them, and that this bill was a better representation of what the Constitution was interpreted to mean on the question of privilege. He said this would open up dramatically the amount of information discoverable from the governor’s office, and provides a judicial mechanism to appeal denials.

Sen. Lydia Jackson wanted to know whether there would be a definitive standard about what was “deliberative.” Faircloth said he couldn’t do that, so Jackson replied she thought therefore more control would be placed in the governor’s office. But Faircloth reminded her the line was clear now: no exceptions whatsoever to the blanket coverage. She also said the schedule should be an open record, but Faircloth said too many items for deliberative and security concerns would have to be redacted from it, and that no other state allowed unfettered access to the schedule. Jackson suggested putting more emphasis on a more-finite “work product” than “deliberative process.” He read some other states’ descriptions of the process which were not very definitive. Jackson insisted a records request was just for that, a record, and that there should be a definition of the process. Fairlcloth pointed out that other states did not have language based on process, only documents that was too narrow, and pointed out the concept was a widely-recognized standard judicially. She asked about an amendment that would try to more narrowly define the process, along the lines of Illinois, but he said they could not support it.

Carl Redman of the Louisiana Press Association argued that the wording was too vague and therefore would allow entities outside of the governor’s office, both in state government and not, could be covered under the bill. He also argued that the schedule needed more revelation because it should be known who could be influencing the governor. But Sen. Mike Walsworth said not every meeting with somebody had influence operating, and it could create a misleading impression that could have a chilling effect on the process. Redman said because of the state’s suspicious history and “the most powerful governor in the country” he wanted to err on the side of transparency. Faircloth said he would try to work on language concerning the staff – presumably on the floor.

The bill without amendment then was approved 4-2.

SB 205 by Sen. Robert Adley also would address public records, along the lines of a bill dealt with the previous week in House committee by its tabling. After quick clarifying amendments were put on, Adley opined the previous bill had made matters worse and sketched a conspiracy theory about how the current administration was trying to keep greater transparency from coming. He claimed the previous bill had reintroduced all the previously covered agencies uncovered the previous year into exemption, put the power in the hands of the executive counsel to make these decisions and force the public into expensive appeals, and “devastated the public bid laws.” He said the alternative bills were not directed at the current administration, and his bill allowed sufficient exemptions that existed for other agencies currently in state government.

Sen. Edwin Murray asked about the focus of his bill. Adley said it was person-centered, mainly because it was too consuming to go at it otherwise. Faircloth disputed Adley’s conspiratorial conclusions and said the language was clear not to include back in agencies, but he would work on wordings on the other bill if needed to make it even clearer. He said this bill went too far, saying things such as e-mail messages to top aides would be totally open and would alter the process.

Adley closed by saying he worked for the people and ought to pass both bills out. It lost by the identical 4-2.

SB 314 by Adley would allow for reimposition of the blanket primary system for federal offices. He said the new closed primaries caused confusion and cost millions more, and said it caused rejection of the right to vote (presumably because Republicans did not allow non-party members to vote in the primary). He said he didn’t want to force parties to open up primaries, so this bill was the only way he could think to do it. He asked for amendments that would address previous constitutional concerns about elections dates to be adopted, and they were without objection.

Sen. Jack Donahue said he saw no violation of a right to vote when anybody excluded from a party primary could then vote in the subsequent general election. Walsworth received for clarification on costs -- $5.6 million for a statewide election, $1.8 million for a special – and budgeting for them. Sen. John Smith opined he wasn’t a big fan of parties and in Washington served only to embarrass each others, but said the old system affected seniority of members. Adley then told an entertaining story about how his wife was a Democrat and was allowed to vote for a Republican candidate in the primary but said they would find a make-up vote from a Republican, to illustrate confusion. First Assistant Secretary of State Tom Schedler expressed shock at this and said it would be addressed.

Adley said the bill would not hurt the GOP, that Lincoln took together disparate elements of other parties to win. Donahue pointed out that an extra election after the national election date was an extra cost. Adley also pointed a plurality now could elect leaders, although Donahue said in essence was moot because so many didn’t vote already. Schedler added that a current problem with now five recognized parties was that it could require more machines in a closed primary and would be more costly. Donahue pointed out that without closed primaries, it would deter party-building since there is no penalty for not being aligned with a party.

The bill was defeated 4-2.

Move favorable?
Amedee, as he sat down to begin presentation of his SB 278, the debate over which would last over 100 minutes.

I resemble that.
Chairman Bob Kostelka, when Amedee was using as an example judge’s deliberations that are best kept confidential; Kostelka was a former judge.

I know Bobby Jindal will soften his heart to the truth.
Adley, when predicting that he thought policy would go in the direction of his bill rather than Amedee’s.

If you can let bygones be bygones
Adley, after the defeat of his first bill before moving on to the next.

You may not be hurting the Republican Party, but your killing the Secretary of State.
Donahue, after Adley’s story.

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