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Secrecy is Bad Business, PAR Says

The Senate should reject a proposal to keep negotiations between the state and business prospects secret. HB 744 would prevent the public from examining Department of Economic Development (DED) records, regarding negotiations with businesses interested in locating or expanding operations in the state, for up to two years.

Proponents argue the proposal is needed because other states have secrecy provisions and potential investors are leery of Louisiana’s public records law. However, the fact is that most states, including Louisiana, only protect trade secrets and proprietary information in an attempt to balance the legitimate needs of business with the public’s right to know.

While businesses should expect that certain information about their operations be held in confidence, they should not expect to make deals involving millions of public dollars without adequate public involvement. The recent debate over sizeable incentives for a large retail development shows the importance of involving the various public and private interests that have a stake in the deal being negotiated. In this case, the decisions were made in public forums, but opponents were at a disadvantage in developing their data and positions with only a week’s notice in some instances. The sheer momentum of a well-developed project can easily roll over legitimate objections of a community that may be asked to give up a portion of its future tax base in exchange for benefits that may not materialize. Timely information is the best defense against a bad deal.

HB 744 should be rejected. But at least, the bill should be amended to require a sixty-day notice period prior to any vote taken on projects secretly negotiated through DED. This notice period would allow all parties time to examine proposals that have been negotiated over months or even years in secret.

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