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Gov. Landry enacts law that lets officials ignore public records requests

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Gov. Landry enacts law that lets officials ignore public records requests

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Gov. Landry enacts law that lets officials ignore public records requests
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Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulphur, speaks at the podium Tuesday, July 18, 2023, during a veto override session at the Louisiana State Capitol. Louisiana enacted a Farnum bill in 2024 that allows government officials to ignore the state public records law without consequence. (Allison Allsop/Louisiana Illuminator)

Gov. Jeff Landry has signed into law a bill that allows government officials to ignore the state’s public records law without consequence. 

House Bill 768, sponsored by Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulphur, removes all personal liability from the records custodian of a government agency who unreasonably withholds records or fails to respond to a public records request. 

The statute that was repealed previously allowed courts to consider custodian liability when a requester sued the government agency that withheld the records. The custodian could have been forced to pay a fine of $100 per day and the attorney fees of the person who was denied access to the records.

The new law does away with all of that. However, First Amendment attorney Scott Sternberg, who represents the Louisiana Press Association, said it is unlikely to make things worse than they already are because courts almost never enforce the custodian liability statute.

Farnum’s bill was one of many passed this session, most spearheaded by the governor, to weaken or repeal state public records laws. 

The Louisiana Public Records Law is a common tool journalists, watchdog groups and engaged citizens use to investigate government corruption, waste and other misdeeds. 

Louisiana lawmakers have gradually chipped away at the state’s public records law, adopting hundreds of changes to revoke public access to a long list of government documents since it was enacted in 1940.