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Did Bobby Jindal take one last opportunity to defy a state law on his way out the door this week?
Technically, he may have.
Consider the wording of Senate Bill 190 by State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge):
The legislature recognizes that it is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner, and that the citizens be advised of and be aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into making public policy. Toward this end, the provisions of this Section, as well as the rest of this Chapter, shall be construed liberally so as to facilitate, rather than hinder, access to public records.
SB 190 was signed into law by Bobby Jindal as Act 145. The bill was designed to lift the veil of secrecy on documents originated by Louisiana’s governors. The new law applies to all documents generated by the governor, his chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and his executive counsel. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=959869
Records of the office of the governor relative to fiscal or budgetary matters, Including, but not limited to records of communications between the legislative auditor’s office and the office of the governor relative to fiscal or budgetary matters, shall be public records.
It exempts for eight years intra-office communications by the governor’s staff.
Record(s) of the office of the governor relating to intra-office communications of the governor and his internal staff may be privileged from disclosure.
But after eight years, even those intra-office communications between staff members shall become public, according to the act.
Any exemption granted by this Section shall lapse eight years after the creation of the record to which the exemption is applicable. After the lapse of eight years, the records of the office of the governor, as maintained by the state archivist and deposited with the state archives program pursuant to R.S. 44:417, shall be public record.
Most important of all, the bill, which became law effective at 12:00 noon on Monday, requires that the governor and his staff preserve all records generated and originated within the executive branch and to transfer all records to the archives division of the secretary of state.
The governor and his internal staff shall preserve all records to which this Section is applicable and at the conclusion of his term of office, the governor shall transfer all such records to the custody of the archives division of the secretary of state. For purposes of this Section, “internal staff” of the governor includes the governor’s chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, executive counsel, and director of policy, but shall not include any employee of any other agency, department, or office.
All this sound well and good. Others had tried and failed to shed the light of public disclosure on the governor’s office. Similar bills had either died a quiet death in committee or, if passed, were vetoed by Jindal.
So how did Claitor’s bill manage to obtain Jindal’s signature enacting it into law?
Well, for starters, it was passed as Jindal’s term was winding down. But even then, word is that Jindal said he would veto Claitor’s bill if it were to take effect while he still occupied the fourth floor of the State Capitol.
So in effect, what Jindal was saying was transparency was a grand and wonderful thing so long as it did not apply to him. It was fine and dandy for his successor to be held accountable but he was determined to veto the bill if it took effect while he was still in office.
No problem, he was assured. The bill would go into effect at precisely 12:00 noon on Monday, January 11, 2016. Jindal was scheduled to leave office exactly one minute later.
The only problem was, the program ran a little late on inauguration day and John Bel Edwards did not actually take the oath of office until 12:25 p.m.
Meanwhile, throughout the weekend leading up to this week’s inauguration ceremonies, Jindal’s minions were frantically deleting thousands of emails in the governor’s office at across the street at Division of Administration.
Obviously, Jindal felt he would no longer be in office when the bill became law and thus exempt from its provisions.
But technically, he remained in office for nearly a half-hour after the new law took effect. Therefore, he was bound by the dictates of the new statute and by deleting those thousands of emails, he was in flagrant violation of the very bill that he signed into law a scant six months earlier.
The provisions of this Act shall be given prospective application only. Any record having been used, being in use, possessed, or retained for use by the governor in the usual course of the duties and business of his office prior to the effective date of this Act shall be subject to the provisions of (the law) as it existed prior to the effective date of this Act.
Granted, many of the emails may well have been mundane in nature. Who cares, after all, what the office staff will order up to the fourth floor of the State Capitol for lunch? But others were certainly germane to the administration of state government and by deleting them, it can only make the job of Jindal’s successor more difficult.
Claitor, contacted about the procedural violation, said he was not surprised. “The administration’s pages on the state website were disappearing, too,” he said.
“In my mind,” he said, “his actions certainly violate the spirit, if not the letter of the law.”
It seems somehow ironic that Jindal’s devious, scheming tactics would in the end expose him to potential prosecution for the illegal dumping of eight years worth of emails.
The term poetic justice also comes to mind.