Good Morning Sunshine! It’s your week.
Citizens for a New Louisiana is celebrating national Sunshine Week and continuing on our mission of government transparency and accountability by reporting on the outcome of thousands of public records requests issued last month.
The Sunshine Week initiative began less than twenty years ago to educate the public about the importance of transparency and of the dangers of government secrecy. There are several federal agencies that celebrate Sunshine Week highlighting the Freedom of Information Act signed into law on July 4, 1966, but very few, if any state agencies take the opportunity to celebrate or educate the public on Louisiana’s public records law. The Louisiana Constitution of 1974, Article XII, Section 3 provides that “No person shall be denied the right to observe the deliberations of public bodies and examine public documents, except in cases established by law.” The legislature has recognized that is essential to the operation of a democratic government that the people be made aware of all exceptions, exemptions, and limitations to the laws pertaining to public records and sought to codify those not contained in the Constitution of Louisiana into the Public Records Law. Courts have opined that the legislature, by enacting the “Public Records Law” sought to guarantee, in the most expansive and unrestricted way possible, the right of the public to inspect and reproduce those records which the laws deem to be public.
Unfortunately, Louisiana Public Records law is riddled with exemptions and clauses aimed at protecting certain branches and agencies of government at the expense of the public’s access. The “except in cases established by law” has not only been used by the Legislature to pass protective legislation for certain bodies of government, but has also been seized upon by the Judiciary to expand exemptions into other areas.
Throughout this week we are highlighting the level of response and compliance of various local governments bodies to a series of requests delivered to offices ranging from Parish and Municipal Government bodies, District and Municipal Courts, District Attorneys, Clerks of Court, Registrars of Voters, School Boards, Tax Assessors, Coroners, Sheriffs and Municipal Law Enforcement agencies. Stay tuned for information as we navigate the muddy waters of the Bayou State’s Public Records Law.