BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The four major candidates vying to be Louisiana's next governor promised more openness in government Thursday, saying they'll push to limit the broad public records exemptions granted to the governor's office.
Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, state Rep. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter said an exemption that shields records considered part of the governor's "deliberative process" should be curbed.
Dardenne, Edwards and Vitter said the exemption has been abused. Vitter said he'd issue an executive order curtailing it on his first day in office.
Each of the men said they'd seek legislative restrictions on use of the deliberative process exemption, which was introduced into public records law in a rewrite backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2009 and described by his administration as a way to protect the free flow of ideas.
Several candidates took digs at Jindal, who campaigned on government transparency, for keeping too much hidden.
"The only thing transparent about our governor right now is his ambition," said Dardenne, a Republican, referencing Jindal's possible presidential campaign.
Edwards, a Democrat, said: "Under our present governor, the deliberative process privilege has been stretched beyond its breaking point. It's actually an abuse of power in the way that it's invoked and the scope of secrecy that it is allowed to continue to exist."
The comments came at a forum sponsored by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, which pushes for more sunshine in government. Vitter wasn't present because of congressional votes scheduled in Washington.
He taped answers to the questions in advance.
The candidates said open records and public access are essential for people to have confidence in government and for companies to feel comfortable doing business in Louisiana.
Louisiana law gives the governor broad exemptions from having to disclose records, such as decision-making discussions, communication with internal staff, security information and his schedule.
Citing exemptions, Jindal has refused to release any of his emails from his two terms. Under his watch, more state agencies have claimed their records can be kept secret. The deliberative process language has been more broadly interpreted than lawmakers say they intended.
Asked about the candidates' criticism Thursday, Jindal said: "We have followed the laws of Louisiana while we're in office."
Vitter criticized an exemption enacted under the Jindal administration allowing executive branch departments to have a six-month blackout period on budget documents providing advice to the governor. The GOP senator said he would limit that.
"I'll work with the Legislature to codify that policy so it will continue beyond my administration," he said.
Angelle, a Republican who worked for Jindal, said he'd post his daily schedule online and require cabinet secretaries to do the same. He said he'd support legislation to ensure the deliberative process exemption "cannot be used as a catch-all phrase to deny access."
"My pledge to you today is my administration will be more transparent than the current one and more transparent than past administrations," Angelle said.
On a question about Louisiana's ethics laws, Vitter said he'd give the ethics administration office more resources to ensure toughened ethics laws passed when Jindal first took office are enforced. Dardenne said he'd push for more timely decisions from the boards that rule on ethics charges. Edwards said more disclosure is needed in campaign finance laws. Angelle said private contractors doing business with the state should be subject to disclosure laws.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Posted on Fri, April 24, 2015
by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press