Senate bill 583 must be stopped

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 15, 2010

A perceived problem with the way in which the New Orleans City Council committees would like to operate has prompted a bill that would apply to all public bodies in the state and create a serious loophole in the public meetings law.

Under Senate bill 583 by Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, a public body with four or fewer members (most likely a committee or subcommittee) could meet privately, without giving public notice, provided the members don’t make a decision or take a vote.

The seven-member New Orleans City Council operates with four- member committees. They would like to chat among themselves without having to include the public. They say they are afraid that such conversations may violate the current law. Whether casual talks among members would violate the current law is open to question. But the Peterson bill would go way beyond casual chats, and it could lead to the creation of four member committees all over the state to take advantage of the loophole.

If her bill were to become law, a committee with four or fewer members that now must open its meetings to the public could meet privately and thrash out a controversial item that affects their constituents. Or, a committee could meet and receive proposals from third parties — proposals that could affect constituents’ property rights, business interests, their childrens’ education or an unlimited number of other interests. Whether a vote is taken is not the point. The people would miss the information they need to understand and judge the decisions made by their public officials.

When the controversial item, discussed privately in committee, would come before the full council or school board or other public entity, the public would be deprived of an opportunity to adequately assess the reasons for it or to check out any third parties who stand to benefit from it. When a public body is going to act, people interested in or affected by a proposal should have adequate time to frame their support or their objections.

Perhaps the most cogent argument against Peterson’s bill is found in the public meetings law itself: “It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.”

– Linda Lightfoot,

Louisiana Press Association Freedom of Information


Editor’s Note: This bill is aimed at taking away your right to know what those you have elected to office are doing.

It is scheduled to be heard in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee this coming week. Please join us in contacting the senators on that committee, as well as other state senators, and telling them to vote NO.

Members of the committee are Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge, Rob Marionneaux of Livonia, John Smith of Leesville, Jody Amedee of Gonzales, Jack Donahue of Mandeville, Lydia Jackson of Shreveport, Bob Kostelka of Monroe, Ed Murray of New Orleans and Mike Walsworth of West Monroe.

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