La. legislator proposes bill that would allow minors to gain access to public records

LOUISIANA — A state representative is sponsoring anamendment to the Louisiana Public Records Act that would give minors access topublic records.Louisiana is the only state that requires a person to be”of the age of majority” — 18 in Louisiana — to haveaccess to public documents. This means that the state’s high schooljournalists and students interested in open government can be denied access topublic records if they are under the age of 18.”Thereshouldn’t be any reason we would want to not share public information withsomeone who is less than 18 years old,” said Rep. Tommy Wright, D-Jena,the sponsor of HB 492. Wright said he looked into the issue after astudent contacted him about problems he had obtaining records from a localschool boardMichael W. Barker, a politically active junior at Jena HighSchool, made several open-records requests to the LaSalle Parish School Boardfor information related to technology the school system purchased. His requests,made in June of last year, were repeatedly ignored and finally denied, Barkersaid.Under state law, officials are not required to grant open-recordsrequests to minors, but they are not prohibited from doing so either, accordingto Barker, who was 16 years old at the time he filed the requests.Barkerfinally obtained the documents in January, but only after an adult friendrequested the records on his behalf.”This not only affects peoplelike me who are interested in public policy, but it also affects studentjournalists. That’s what the main concern for me is, that studentjournalists are not being allowed access to records because of their age,”the 17-year-old said.After conducting some research, Barker discoveredthat Louisiana is the only state with such a law. He also found that the PublicAffairs Research Council of Louisiana, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group,recommended in 2003 that the Louisiana Public Records Act be amended to grantminors access. Barker contacted Wright, hoping to spur on adoption of such anamendment. The amendment would allow any person access to publicrecords, but those under 18 years of age would be allowed to receive only copiesof requested records and will not be able to inspect the records where they arekept, Barker said.The Legislature will begin a new session March 29, andWright expects the bill to be scheduled for a hearing in the House andGovernmental Affairs Committee during the first week of April.Wrightbelieves the bill has a good chance of passing, especially since Louisiana isthe only state to deny minors access to public records.”[I] feellike it’s important for uniformity throughout the United States, and [Ifeel like it’s important for] minors to have equal rights,” Wrightsaid.Barker’s biggest hope is that the billpasses.”I think that [passage of the bill] would show thatLouisiana is concerned and that it is interested in allowing the young people ofits state access to [public] records,” Barker said.He wants thelaw to go into effect before his birthday on Sept. 24 so that he can make anopen-records request while still a minor — and have his requestgranted.

Rep. Wright suggests that people interested in voicing their support for the amendment contact members of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. A list of committee members can be found here. Supporters can contact the members by telephone or by sending a letter to the following address: Representative __________, State Capitol, P.O. Box 44486, Baton Rouge, LA 70804-4486.