Thursday, June 10, 2010

Louisiana governors records bills defeated

Treme, a young green sea turtle found cold-stunned in December 2009, in her temporary home at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans, Louisiana, 21 March 2010. Aquarium staff were planning to release Treme and another rehabilitated green sea turtle into the Gulf of Mexico sometime this summer. Owing to the Gulf oil spill, those plans are on hold and the aquarium has taken in 32 oil-slicked turtles, 3 of which have died.

Earlier today, proposed governors' records legislation sponsored by Representative Wayne Waddell (R-Shreveport) died in the Louisiana State House of Representatives. The legislation would have narrowed (but not eliminated) the gubernatorial exemptions in Louisiana's open records law. In addition, it would have compelled governors to transfer their records to the Louisiana State Archives upon leaving office and to open them to researchers 10 years after doing so. A similar bill sponsored by Senator Robert Adley (R-Benton) perished in the Louisiana State Senate last week.

When compared to the oil spill that is wreaking environmental and economic havoc along the Gulf Coast, public records legislation may seem like a trifling concern. However, it's not. Government records document the rights of citizens to vote, receive benefits for which they are eligible, and hold real and other property, and good management and proper disclosure of these records enables citizens to ensure that their government is acting honestly and responsibly. Gubernatorial records, in particular, document important policy and resource allocation decisions, and states such as Louisiana (and New York) do their citizens a real disservice by not insisting that these records be managed, preserved, and made accessible in a clearly defined and systematic manner.

Louisiana has suffered more than its fair share of disasters in recent years, and it seems all but certain that recovering from the oil spill will be slow, difficult, and painful. Ensuring that the records of the state's governors are managed properly and made accessible won't save the state's wetlands, wildlife, or economy, but it will enable the people of Louisiana to assess the words and deeds of their leaders, determine what worked and what didn't, and plan for the future.

Here's hoping that in 2011, Louisiana gets the gubernatorial records legislation its citizens deserve.

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