Amendment that opens negotiations to taxpayer scrutiny set for Senate debate

After its brush with death, Rep. Tony Ligi’s (R-Metaire) legislative push for transparency in collective bargaining is back to life in the form of an amendment to HB 559, which is scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor today.

The initial Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act (HR 204) would have placed collective bargaining sessions between state public employers and labor unions under the open meetings law. Any document created or presented during the sessions would be available to the public and the details attached to the collective bargaining agreements posted on the Internet.

However, the House and Government Affairs Committee voted 8-7 to “involuntarily defer” (terminate)  the legislation earlier this month. Ligi lost two of his own Republicans, Reps. George Cromer of Slidell and Jane Smith of Bossier City, who joined with Democrats to vote in favor of a motion from Rep. Richard Gallot (D-Ruston) to kill the bill.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers was strongly opposed to the legislation. Meladie Munch, president of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, has argued that Ligi’s bill would actually harm the negotiation process. Participating parties would not be able to speak in an open and unrestrained manner, Munch has said.

But a change in policy is needed to help safeguard taxpayers who are often locked out of the process, Ligi countered.

“Right now the public has no say in these negotiations and what they will end up costing all of us a lot of money,” he observed. “This often happens without the public even having seen the documents or having any input. That’s not the way we should operate. Public employee contracts involve a lot of money and we need transparency.”

The pending amendment, which is applicable only to school boards, makes for a less expansive version of HB 204.

“If the amendment remains and the bill passes, it would provide taxpayers with the opportunity to review collective bargaining agreements with public employee labor unions and employment contracts with the superintendant of schools before a school board can approve the contract.

“Taxpayers have a vested interest in these contracts so it is appropriate that they be open for public scrutiny prior to being ratified,” Ligi added.

Renee Baker, the Louisiana director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), concurred.

“I can’t imagine too many small businesses I represent wouldn’t be interested in the contracts between unions and public employers,” she said. “They [union officials] always talk about how they are taxpayers when this comes up, which they are, but we are also taxpayers and we don’t get the benefit they do.”

Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter