WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives voted 77-12 today to ratify Senate changes on a public records bill that would require the governor to grant public access to all state records related to the Gulf oil spill, putting Gov. Bobby Jindal in uncomfortable position politically. Brett Duke / The Times-Picayune Gov. Bobby Jindal addresses the combined House and Senate to open the 2010 legislative session on March 29. House Bill 37 by Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco, originated as an uncontroversial measure that would allow the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections to discard certain old records. But the Senate earlier this week adopted the amendment from Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, to affect the governor's office and other executive branch agencies. The Republican governor, who casts himself as a champion of ethics and transparency, has for three years successfully scuttled legislation to scale back his broad exemptions to Louisiana public records law, sparing himself from having to wield his veto pen. Separately, he has pushed his own records bills to tinker with the exceptions, calling those efforts "transformational" moves toward open government. Jindal aides have not said what the governor plans in response to the latest maneuver. "We need to review the amendment in detail. We want to ensure we don't do anything to hurt our state's position in future litigation against BP." Adley and other lawmakers noted during debate that the state successfully sought a court order requiring BP to share all its documents about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, the subsequent spill and the company's response effort. Taxpayers should have the same access to state records, Adley said. Despite the administration's stated concerns on the bill, BP or other corporate defendants likely would be granted access to relevant state records as part of discovery in court proceedings. The House concurrence vote came a day after the House rejected by a 42-54 vote a similar effort from Rep. Wayne Waddell, R-Shreveport, to amend still another public records bills. It was not immediately clear whether enough representatives had changed their mind -- with or without the administration's blessing -- or whether they were simply unaware of the Senate changes. Unless the governor's aides -- or the governor, who is in the Capitol today after spending weeks on the oil-affected coast -- convince the House to reconsider its actions later today, the bill will head to Jindal's desk. The administration could attempt to alter another bill reversing the Adley amendment on Smith's bill. Then the governor could sign both bills, with the end affect being no change to the shield for his records. Rep. Gary L. Smith Jr. Adley and Waddell have tried each year of Jindal's tenure to open more of the governor's records to public inspection, decrying existing laws that make the Louisiana chief executive one of the most shielded among U.S. governors. Adley got his version out of committee earlier this session, but watched it die on the Senate floor. Waddell has been unable to get his proposal out a Jindal-friendly House committee and has failed on the floor with other amendment attempts. Waddell also pushed the issue during Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration. Waddell said he got interested in the issue when he realized that Louisiana residents were not guaranteed access to Blanco's records in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Rita. Blanco fought Waddell's efforts to do away with the governor's privilege on records, but she voluntarily released her office's hurricane response records.
Gov. Bobby Jindal could face tough decision on opening his oil spill records
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