Two Republicans support motion to kill transparency legislation

An effort to bring greater openness and transparency to collective bargaining agreements experienced a significant setback on Wednesday. It may return, but it is on hold until next year.

Rep. Toni Ligi’s (R-Metaire) 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.

“This was about a very specific change,” Ligi explained. “There is an attorney general opinion that says executive sessions are not subjected to public records requests. So it is possible to go in undercover and hide important details from the public. This bill would change that.”

However, the House and Government Affairs Committee voted 8-7 to involuntarily defer the legislation. Ligi lost two of his own Republicans, Reps. George Cromer of Slidell and Jane Smith of Bossier City. Cromer and Smith joined with the Democrats on the committee to vote in favor of a motion from Rep. Richard Gallot (D-Ruston) to kill the bill.
Ligi said he is determined to bring the bill back.

“Right now the public has no say in these negotiations and what they will end up costing… [Often] it 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.”

Renee Baker, the Louisiana director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), ardently supported Ligi’s bill.

“Yes, Louisiana is a right to work state and that helps,” she said. “But remember we do have RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] in the House and Senate who take money from organized labor. This means they may not always vote for the right policies.”

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers has expressed opposition 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.

Between 2003 and 2009, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has donated $191,857 to both major political parties with $175,755 of this amount going to the Democrats.

Despite union opposition, Baker suspects that Ligi’s bill would have passed if the full committee had been present. Prolonged testimony can sometimes work to the disadvantage of contested legislation, she explained, as members have to fulfill other obligations.

“This is a good public policy,” Baker said. “It would be interesting for the public to be able to see and comment on what’s being done with their money. I’m sure the small businesses I represent would be interested in the contracts between unions and public employers. The unions in these hearings also say they are taxpayers, and they are, but we are also taxpayers and we don’t get the public benefit they get.”

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