The Louisiana Press Association’s new lobbying team faces a regular session that will target a vital part of the newspaper industry: ad revenue. There are also growing concerns about other bills that could change the in-person nature of public meetings and limit how journalists access certain public law enforcement records.
“It’s going to be a much busier session than what I’m used to seeing,” says Jerry Raehal, who took over as executive director of LPA in late 2020. Prior to that, he was CEO of the Colorado Press Association. “There are three pillars we’re trying to focus on and they’re all on the table this session, including open meetings, public records and public notices.”
Raehal says the newspaper’s lobby will have new allies this year in the form of a Pelican State Partners lobby team led by lawyer and lobbyist Christian Rhodes. Attorney Scott Sternberg, known for his work in the media and the First Amendment, continues to serve as general counsel for the press association and go-to person for lawmakers on many brewing issues.
At the top of the PLA’s watch list is Senator Fred Mills’ R-Parks Senate Bill 322, which would allow local government agencies to use so-called “pointed ads” to replace ads. traditional public hearings for minutes, property sales and other procedures. . The pointer ad, or small box ad, would simply provide a web or email address, or some other mechanism, that directs readers to a place where they can access or request the same information.
“The United States Securities and Exchange Commission uses QR codes in exactly the same way,” Mills says. “Looks like the Feds have that right and we need to make up for it.”
Mills describes his proposal as a “good compromise” and an “economical” vehicle for the public bodies described in the bill, including “police juries, town and parish councils, municipal corporations and school boards”.
Raehal countered that public bodies typically use less than 0.3% of their overall budget to underwrite public notice ads. For some newspapers, however, that revenue is everything. But revenue isn’t the only reason the PLA is struggling — the association has met with about 60 lawmakers so far to discuss other potential impacts, like due process.
Then there’s www.LouisianaPublicNotice.com, a digital clearinghouse for public notice advertisements powered by the LPA. If newspapers lose the ability to publish full public notices, this resource could become less populated.
Sternberg says he’s also asking lawmakers to consider the ramifications of Internet manipulation.
“You know, this state isn’t particularly connected online,” Sternberg says. “And part of the usefulness of an article is that it’s printed and dated, whereas a website is endlessly manipulable.”
On another front, LPA is trying to avoid what Sternberg calls “the Zooms scenario du jour.”
In the wake of COVID-19, temporary laws have been passed and allowances given to elected officials and elected officials to meet digitally, often using Zoom. As Louisiana returns to a sense of normalcy, officials like Treasurer John Schroder and Speaker of the House and Government Affairs John Stefanski, R-Crowley, are looking for ways to hold on to the good things of that experience.
Stefanski has House Bill 325 to allow the State Bond Commission to continue to meet electronically, but only once per quarter.
“We are at the end of this pilot program with the Bond Commission meeting via Zoom and it worked perfectly,” says Stefanski, who intends to continue meeting with the PLA at the start of the session. “In fact, we have never seen so much public participation. Which is why the treasurer asked me to file this.
Sternberg says bills involving electronic public meetings are the “next big wave,” similar to the task lawmakers faced several years ago with respect to text messages and public records. There are other bills introduced this session that would create additional exclusions for the Board of Medical Examiners and the Gaming Control Board.
“I worry about the slippery slope,” Sternberg says. “But there’s also the fact that being in the room and feeling the emotions is a real thing. Anyone who has attended a controversial public meeting knows this. People who have been through parole hearings know this. Imagine capturing that feeling on Zoom. You can not. Do you know what you can do on Zoom? You can press mute when you don’t want to engage. »
Any keen observer of Louisiana politics would probably wish they had a mute button they could have pressed in the past few years. But no such thing exists for citizens and voters, so it’s only fair that our elected and appointed representatives should listen, watch and engage like the rest of us.