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The public's business should be conducted in the open, and that's why Louisiana's open meeting laws give people access to sessions of public bodies and agencies.
The laws require that a meeting's agenda be posted at least 24 hours before the session. For years, though, many public officials have gotten around that requirement by exploiting a provision intended to accommodate legitimate last-minute contingencies.
Rep. Rick Gallot of Ruston wants to stop the abuse by making it harder to sneak in unscheduled items, and lawmakers should approve his proposal.
Under current law, public bodies like city councils or state boards can add agenda items at the meeting with a two-thirds vote. Rep. Gallot's proposal, House Bill 392, would raise the requirement to a unanimous vote. That's a better way to make sure the public knows what will be discussed at a meeting.
The two-thirds vote requirement has hardly kept sneaky additions in check.
For example, during a six-month period in 2004, the Jefferson Parish Council approved 207 resolutions that were added "from the floor" and had not appeared in the publicly released agendas. Under criticism, the council passed some restrictions. But it still allowed itself exceptions for non-emergency items such as some alcohol permits -- which can occasionally stir neighborhood opposition and warrant advance public notice.
This example is hardly an anomaly, and that's why Rep. Gallot's bill is needed.
Aside from making agenda changes harder, the bill would require spelling out the reasons for the last-minute addition. The public could then better discern if there is a legitimate motive for the item not to appear in the publicly released agenda.
The bill would also preserve existing exceptions to accommodate legitimate emergencies, such as natural disasters, addressing any critic who may suggest it would tie the hands of public officials.
The public should know what officials are up to, and this bill will make that easier.
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