BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — House lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a proposal pushed by Louisiana business groups to shield from the public information reported by companies receiving state tax incentives.
Opponents said the measure would hide crucial details about those businesses that are benefiting from taxpayer-financed programs.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber, known as BRAC, sought the legislation by Republican Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, of Central.
The bill easily won Senate approval earlier in the session, but lawmakers on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee raised several concerns about its secrecy provisions. Only three committee members supported the measure Wednesday, while eight voted to kill it.
The measure would have made a long list of information classified as “personally identifying” exempt from public records law when companies submit the information to the state in exchange for tax incentives. Louisiana has a host of incentive programs that hand out billions of state and local tax dollars to companies.
BRAC President Adam Knapp said companies worried about releasing information about their employees if the public could access the information through records requests. White said major corporations are worried about getting sued by employees for releasing their information.
The Public Affairs Research Council, a government watchdog group, and the Louisiana Press Association slammed the legislation as overly broad, arguing it would hide important information about who is receiving tax money through the state’s incentive programs.
The Advocate reports that House committee members questioned whether the bill was really about protecting workers from having their information disclosed. Democratic Rep. Wilford Carter, of Lake Charles, called it “suspicious legislation.”
“I don’t know what the real motive is here,” Carter said. “My instinct is that it’s something other than what we’re hearing today.”
Scott Sternberg, general counsel for the Louisiana Press Association, said personal information such as Social Security numbers already is exempt from public records law. Sternberg said companies could easily restructure their ownership to hide who owns the companies receiving tax dollars.
“The press and the people are not interested in people’s Social Security numbers,” Sternberg said. “We just want to know if the governor’s brother is on the payroll.”
When asked which companies sought the change, Knapp wouldn’t say. That prompted Rep. Charles Henry, a Jefferson Republican, to call it a “solution in search of a problem.”
In addition to BRAC, the proposal was backed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Regional Economic Alliance and Louisiana Ammonia Producers, among others.
Senate Bill 191: www.legis.la.gov
By: Associated Press