Reports › BGR Opposes Dilution of Open Meetings Laws

May 20, 2010

In this letter to the members of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee of the State Legislature, BGR opposes any dilution of the state’s open meetings laws. The letter comes in response to a push to close certain meetings of public bodies.

Filed under: Statewide

May 18, 2010

Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee
P.O. Box 94183
Baton Rouge, LA 70804

Dear Committee Members,

We are writing with respect to SB 583, which would amend Louisiana’s open meetings law to exempt certain gatherings of municipal and parish governing authorities. The final form of the bill remains uncertain. However, we would like to register our opposition to any dilution of the open meetings laws.

We have closely followed the debates surrounding the proposed amendments. In our opinion, the proponent’s arguments do not justify limiting the public’s access to deliberations and presentations.

The Legislature has clearly articulated the importance of citizen access to the deliberations of public officials. As current law states: “It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations [emphasis added] and decisions that go into the making of public policy.” (RS 42:4.1-2) The Louisiana Constitution is even clearer on the importance of access to deliberations, granting citizens the “right to observe the deliberations [emphasis added] of public bodies … except in cases established by law.” (Const. 12:3)

Proponents might argue that the bill would merely establish cases excepted by law. But an exception allowing the majority of a body to deliberate in private on any topic in its purview would clearly violate the spirit and intent of that mandate.

BGR reviewed open meetings laws in 10 states (Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin). In none of those states could we find a broad exception for the majority of public body, or the committees thereof, to deliberate in private. Some of these laws are even more restrictive than Louisiana’s.

Without question, public servants are occasionally inconvenienced by the requirements of open government. If not managed properly, openness may even lead to certain inefficiencies in conducting public business. However, open government should not be sacrificed on the altar of efficiency.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Janet R. Howard
President & CEO
Bureau of Governmental Research
938 Lafayette Street
Suite 200
New Orleans, LA 70113
(504) 525-4152, Ext 107 (o)
(504) 525-4153 (f)

Filed under: Statewide