Home Opinion Public’s right to know threatened by Senate Bill 322

Public’s right to know threatened by Senate Bill 322

by Minden Press-Herald

Read all about it while you can: Senate Bill 322. Call it the “Turn Out the Lights” legislation.

For some misguided reason, at least some of Louisiana’s state senators seem hell-bent for turning out the lights on public notices through Senate Bill 322.

Sen. Fred Mills’ (R-Parks) SB 322, in Senate Local and Municipal Affairs committee now awaiting final revisions and amendments, is designed to take down the current state law passed seven decades ago requiring local and state governments to publish their public notices – meetings minutes, surplus equipment sales, proposed taxes, delinquent tax rosters, budgets, etc. – in Louisiana’s (digital and print) newspapers.

This bad bill SB322 proposes to move these public notices to “government websites.” Politicos plan to “let you know if you ask” when something is happening – meaning you having to request emails and USPS mailings, individually. Yes, good luck to us all with that. You can figure out what will happen if that comes to pass. You will find out less, much less – maybe even nothing. Government websites are notoriously clunky and hard to use, important data can be uploaded then easily changed and later modified by the keepers without notice to those who already consumed it in its previous form. (That cannot happen as it stands today.) Government website info can be changed, hacked, deleted, held hostage. Government physical mail gets lost or not sent, no follow up or accountability when it doesn’t arrive. Oops. No third-party verification, no permanent record. You’ll be hunting and searching for where to find it all if you even look, maybe in 100 different places on the internet.

Public notices will become public un-noticed. That seems, perhaps, to be the goal of SB322. Darkness. It is, simply, the government saying “trust me” to tell you what government itself is doing. No thanks.

Proponents of the bill, comprised nearly entirely of those who are required to post and pay for public notices, say it will save money – even though they know the budgets of local governing bodies are spending relatively minuscule amounts of their budget on their current legal requirement to inform the public about what they’re doing with your money. In most cases, the public notices spending is hundredths or thousandths of a percent of the governing body’s budget. Many of our governing bodies freely spend much more in the way of pet projects each year than is spent on valuable public notices. And there has been no study or reasonable effort bothering to calculate the new cost of doing it the SB322 way.

That cost is “unknown.” We all know it will be more. Much more. And it’s all taxpayer money.

If SB322 passes, there’s a 100% chance that more government employees will need to be hired at literally every level and agency of government. More employee benefits. More computers and equipment will be purchased, more postage spent, more paper used, more office space rented or bought or maintained, more files to be maintained. More consultants, many the cronies of politicians, will be hired. Yet, they cannot and probably will not even try to achieve what newspapers are now doing for a relatively small cost and the needed associated current third-party verification. Competent local private jobs will be converted to inefficient government waste. Corruption and cronyism will be invited in through this new SB322 dark room.

SB322 will cost more and be less efficient and less effective than what we have now. Public notices in newspapers digitally and in print is the best of both worlds because it works. The current system is permanent, unchangeable, available 24/7/365 – and is archived in both the new-world and old-world mediums (digital and print).

Your local newspaper serves you, the public. Key in on the “local” part. Newspaper reporters cover the doings of local governments at no expense to the government – unless you want to attribute public notice cost to some of that effort. Fair enough – and well worth it for the transparency that results. It’s worked for a long time – the internet didn’t change things as much as SB322 proponents would have us believe. Louisiana Press Association (LPA) and state newspapers have all public notices on a consolidated website available for free to whoever wants to see what’s going on – and many do. Convenient, efficient and searchable, available free to view at your local newspaper’s website or at LPA’s Public Notices link on their website. It’s all in print and online, third party verified and checked for completeness. Verified. Permanent. Been that way for years, for decades. It works.

Contact your elected officials and tell them our public notices law isn’t broken and it doesn’t need to be “fixed.” Tell your state senator you want to keep the lights “ON!” We don’t need SB322.

Originally Published in the Ruston Daily Leader.

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