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Senate committee defers economic development confidentiality bill

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(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs voted unanimously to defer a bill on Wednesday that would have provided confidentiality for economic development efforts.

Critics such as the Louisiana Press Association say House Bill 461 would hamper transparency as it would put restrictions on public record requests related to economic development projects in the negotiation phase.

The committee said it would defer the bill for a week as Rep. Steven Jackson, D-Shreveport, has some amendments that he’d like to have added to the bill. He said he has heard from the nonprofit, non-partisan Public Affairs Research Council and individuals.

“I am sympathetic to those concerns that they have,” Jackson said. “But what I do want to make sure we continue to emphasize is that we not allow our local government bodies to be undermined when it comes to economic development.”

Jackson authored HB461, which would allow parishes or a municipalities to prevent the disclosure of documents, including expense reports, related to economic development negotiations.

He also said that when he was serving as a Caddo Parish commissioner that nearby cities in Texas such as Longview and Tyler would submit public record requests to find out incentives offered by state and local governments.

He said that these record requests can also be “reverse engineered” to find out the state subsidies despite a similar exemption for Louisiana Economic Development and ports.

“So what ends up happening oftentimes is we end up losing opportunities and jobs to other states and cities,” Jackson said.

Under Jackson’s bill, parish or municipality executives would have to make a certification that those records were related to an ongoing negotiation and make that declaration public on both the governmental entity’s website and in the body’s official journal no later than 10 days after the declaration was issued.

According to the bill, those expense records would be obtainable once the negotiations were concluded.