07 April 2008

lsu reveille's gallant ginger gibson continues shining a light on the piyush scam

Jindal preaches transparency, doesn't follow through
Ginger Gibson
Issue date: 4/7/08

Open government is a tricky thing. Or at least it seems that way when you look at the governor's administration's newly-formed track record on transparent government issues.

It seems the governor's office only wants transparency when it does not affect their office or when it appears to be helping their public image.

In the three months Gov. Bobby Jindal has been in office and in the months leading up to his election, he repeatedly touted the need for transparency in government. The problem is he's not putting his pen where his mouth is.

Two measures have been submitted to the Legislature that would impact open government, and Jindal's position on each is not coherent with his rhetoric of open government.

I know it is not popular to criticize the governor, and many of his fans lashed out at me with personal attacks the last time I did

But the honeymoon is over. And if Jindal wants to talk about open government and ethics, his office and supporters should be willing to handle the whole package, including criticism.

The first measure that went before the Legislature during the first special session and received opposition from the governor's office was a bill that could have removed some exemptions from the public records law. This was not the first time lawmakers had tried to change the public records law. Currently the public records law exempts every record held by the governor's office.

This means that not only does the public not have access to records from Jindal's desk, but they also cannot see anything from the Governor's Program on Abstinence, the Oil Spills Coordinator Office, the Louisiana Human Rights Commission and a long list of other programs.

The inability to scrutinize how the GPA is spending money on the only sex education program in the state is troubling.

And when the bill hit the floor, Jindal and his Republican buddies in the Legislature killed it and any hope of opening up government on the 4th floor of the capitol.

The second measure is more recent. Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, submitted House Bill 431, a constitutional amendment that would have the government stop printing newly passed laws in The Advocate at the end of sessions. The bill was approved by the House Committee and must gain support from the full House and Senate and appear as a referendum on a ballot in November.

Greene said the move is meant to save money - about $220,000 a year - and people will still be able to view newly passed laws on the legislative Web site and in printed forms at libraries distributed by the Secretary of State's Office. He added that only people in the Baton Rouge area read The Advocate, limiting their ability to really increase transparency by doing so.

"This has nothing to do with transparency," Greene said.

Greene said people who want to read laws will be able to find them, and that removing one location of the copies will not impact the ability of the public to gain access.

But Mike Nola, classifieds director at The Advocate, said it has everything to do with transparency and will not save the state much money.

Nola said The Advocate currently runs the laws as an insert, which he agreed only reaches a portion of the state. But while they are printing the form to run in the newspaper that will be eliminated, they also make an additional 600 copies that are distributed by the secretary of state.

Nola said while it costs little extra for them to make the extra copies, just printing 600 copies will cost about the same as printing enough to also insert.

"[Greene] proposed it as a good government bill," Nola said. "If it's good government, don't you think they would want it in the public?"

Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, spoke against the bill in committee last week and said he thinks it would reduce government openness, and the amount of money proposed to be saved is only a small drop in the state's budget.

"It seems even though we're saying we want transparency in our ethics laws, in this instance we're going to remove an area that our laws are published in," Gallot said.

Gallot said many people in his district depend on the newspaper as their only news source

Open government requires transparency at all levels. And legislation like changing the public records laws are necessary for that transparency. If we want to have open government, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep government business in the open.

Jindal's office is not upholding one of his alleged campaign principles. And if we allow more doors to be closed, we will lose track of any hope of open government.

Jindal's Press Secretary Melissa Sellers did not return calls requesting a comment for this column.