Get Caught Up: Bill would address LCG public records dispute 

Josh Guillory at a press conference in August 2022
Former M-P Josh Guillory, his family and ex-members of his administration were implicated in a report suggesting they received free LUS Fiber services. Guillory and his staffers deny the allegations. Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: More changes could be coming to Louisiana’s Public Records Law, a year after legislation led to new public records fees at LCG and a lawsuit filed by media organizations to topple them.

A proposed change to state law, introduced by State Sen. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans), would require local governments to publish a schedule of public records fees in order to charge for emailing public records.

Governments would be liable for “unreasonable” fees under the proposed change, but the amendment does not clarify what a reasonable charge would be for delivering records via email or other electronic methods. The reasonableness of Guillory’s $1-per page fee is under review by Castle in a pending lawsuit by Straight News Online and The Acadiana Advocate.

State law was changed last year to codify the power of local governments to charge “reasonable fees” for sending public records electronically, usually via email.

LCG then implemented a $1-per page charge without publishing a fee schedule or soliciting any public input. At the time, the Guillory administration was under heavy scrutiny from the press over its drainage program and the mayor-president’s efforts to supplement his income with extra work.

Only news outlets were hit with the new fees in the weeks after Guillory implemented them. Guillory was then sued by Straight News Online and The Acadiana Advocate, who argued his $1-per page fee for emailing records was unreasonable and that the power to implement such a fee is exclusive to Lafayette’s city and parish councils.

LCG refused to produce a fee schedule last year and has since relied on statements by Guillory to change the fees. Duplessis’ bill updates the law to require a published schedule.

Holding pattern. The suit brought by Straight News Online and The Advocate paused in January by Judge Marilyn Castle, who found that Guillory was empowered to single-handedly implement fees until the councils took legislative action. The parties have not gone back to court since, awaiting action from the council.

Efforts by the councils failed to reduce Guillory’s fees in December and January failed after opposition from Guillory’s administration.The fees remain in place while the lawsuit continues and the councils reach four months since their last attempt to intervene.