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A Louisiana lawmaker wants broader access to public records • Louisiana Illuminator

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A Louisiana lawmaker wants broader access to public records • Louisiana Illuminator


Lawyers for Louisiana State University often deny public records requests for investigations into employee wrongdoing by citing the court case McMakin v. LSU. Now, McMakin is fighting back. 

Attorney and freshman state Rep. Dixon McMakin, R-Baton Rouge, has clashed with LSU in the courtroom over public records request denials. He’s filed legislation to make sure those looking into public employee misconduct can get the records they need. 

McMakin’s House Bill 116 removes privacy protections for personnel records of public employees. The bill would undo case law that has put up significant roadblocks to those wanting to access records related to investigations into public employee misconduct. 

One such precedent is McMakin v. LSU, a 2022 case in which McMakin sued for records related to Donald Abels, a former LSU Greek Life Official accused of setting up fake social media profiles to entrap fraternity recruits he allegedly solicited to commit crimes. 

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“In that case, the court determined that after weighing of constitutional interests, the employee’s privacy interest outweighed the interest in public disclosure,” Tetyana Hoover, an LSU paralegal, wrote in a denial of a public records request the Illuminator submitted related to sexual misconduct allegations against LSU Linguistics Director Jeremy King

McMakin believes shielding those records from public view is wrong. 

“When you serve in a public role, you give up your rights to some of your privacy by being a public official,” McMakin said in an interview. 

McMakin’s legislation faces an uphill battle. While the Legislature tightens Louisiana’s public records law regularly, expanding access is rare, even though experts say there is a significant public interest in these government records. 

“The public has a right to access records of government business and taxpayer expenditures.  These records allow citizens to access information that is vital to accountability and oversight, both of which help prevent abuse of power and potential corruption,” said Melia Cerrato, Sunshine Legal Fellow at Tulane First Amendment Law Clinic. “Public records about employees’ conduct and the government’s response are matters of significant public importance.” 

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His proposal to expand access to personnel records is not the only way McMakin seeks to bring more sunshine to Louisiana. 

He also filed House Bill 113, which prohibits Louisiana universities from charging student-funded and operated media outlets affiliated with the school for public records requests. 

Most universities already grant fee waivers to their affiliated student media outlets — if they charge for records at all. The Illuminator has submitted public records requests to every university in the state with student media. Only Southeastern Louisiana University has requested payment for fulfillment of those requests. 

The notable exception is LSU. In 2022, the university rescinded an agreement that had been in place for almost two decades between its administration and student media, which are funded by student fees, to waive fees for public records. At the time, Johanna Posada, LSU’s associate general counsel, cited the passage of a new law that made it clear public entities could charge for electronic copies of records. 

Under Louisiana’s public records laws, custodians can only charge for the cost of producing records, such as the cost of paper and ink or a flash drive, but not the labor involved in fulfilling the request.  

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While records custodians could already lawfully charge for electronic copies of records, House Bill 473 by then Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, codified that ability to charge for PDFs or other digital records. 

The bill was never meant to add a financial burden to small or student-run media outlets, Duplessis said. 

“I believe Rep. McMakin’s bill makes total sense and I fully support it,” Duplessis said in an interview. “Student media outlets shouldn’t be charged by their universities.”



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Louisiana

Lawmakers kill minimum pay raise in Louisiana, where one in five people live in poverty

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Lawmakers kill minimum pay raise in Louisiana, where one in five people live in poverty


Louisiana’s poorest workers won’t get a minimum wage increase and employers won’t be forced to address the pay gap for women after lawmakers killed bills to address income disparities in the state with the highest poverty rate in the United States.

State senators on the Labor Committee voted to halt Democratic New Orleans Sen. Gary Carter’s bills to create a state minimum wage higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour and an equal pay measure for women. Both 5-2 votes fell along party lines with all five Republicans against the measures and two Democrats in favor.

Meanwhile, the full House advanced measures to reduce unemployment benefits (House Bill 119) and repeal a child labor law requiring employers to give a meal break to teenage workers (House bill 156).

Carter, whose Senate Bill 173 would have created a state minimumum wage at $10 per hour and gradually be raised to $14 per hour, argued that people “should not be living in poverty while working full time.”

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But those who opposed the bill like Patrick Robinson with the Louisiana Association for Business and Industry testified that Carter’s bills would create hardships on businesses, trigger job cuts, increase costs to consumers and in the case of the equal pay measure create a hostile work environment.

“It’s bad policy,” Robinson said. “It would make our state less competitive. It would force businesses to cut work forces.”

But others who advocated for the minimum wage bill like Melissa Flournoy of Elevate Louisiana noted 34 other states have already established minimum wages higher than federal law, including northern neighbor Arkansas. Neighoring Texas and Mississippi don’t have state minimum wages.

“Arkansas has an $11 minimum wage and we didn’t hear stories of economic devatation in Arkansas,” Flournoy said. “The Legislature continues to demonize the poor. These invisible men and women toil in back-breaking jobs.”

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Carter also said employers who pay what he described as “poverty wages” encourage workers to remain dependent on taxpayer assistance like Medicaid and food stamps even while working full time, placing a burden on the state budget.

“This is an opportunity for people to provide for themselves and their families,” Carter said.

About one in five Louisianians live in poverty.

Louisiana women in particular face bleak circumstances on nearly every front from poverty to life expectancy to education, according to a study released earlier this year.

The WalletHub study ranked Louisiana 50th among states and the District of Columbia as best places for women, ahead of only Oklahoma.

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Last spring a WalletHub study ranked Louisiana as the worst state in America for working mothers with data showing moms here are shortchanged on everything from pay to childcare.

The Louisiana House Labor Committee has already rejected a minimum wage bill in the lower chamber, ending the effort for another year.

More: Louisiana women face bleak circumstances, according to new study ranking the state 50th

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.

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Louisiana Tech University recognized for efforts to protect student free speech

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Louisiana Tech University recognized for efforts to protect student free speech


RUSTON, La. (KNOE) – The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) gave Louisiana Tech University a “green light” rating, making it one of only two universities in Louisiana and one of 65 institutions nationwide to receive such recognition from the organization.

A green light rating means FIRE has found no written policies that have serious potential to threaten student free speech practices.

Louisiana Tech had a red light rating only one year ago during the summer of 2023, but that quickly changed after FIRE notified the university of what an analysis of its policies found. That winter, Louisiana Tech moved to a yellow light rating when it removed a sexual misconduct provision from its student handbook. FIRE and Louisiana Tech continued to work together and have revised 11 policies in the first quarter of 2024.

“Louisiana Tech, with its commitment to sharing knowledge, expanding ideas, and pursuing discovery, must also provide an environment that upholds free expression in its broadest sense,” said Louisiana Tech President Jim Henderson. “A culture of inquiry and informed argument generates lasting ideas. We appreciate FIRE’s partnership in evaluating our policies to ensure we can meet this ideal we have for our community at large.”

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Changes to Louisiana Tech policies include allowing students to decorate their rooms with no restrictions on the content of decorations and allowing student organizations to display signs in university buildings regardless of viewpoints unless the sign violates the law or other university policies. The university also has a bulletin board where students can post without prior approval.

“The ability to post without administrative approval in at least one area on campus is absolutely critical to a healthy campus climate for free expression,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Mary Griffin. “At a time when other institutions are sharply limiting student expression by censoring unpopular views, Tech’s policy revisions signal to its community that its campus is a place to engage in robust dialogue on the issues of the day.”

FIRE and the University of Louisiana System, which Louisiana Tech is a part of, have worked together for two years to protect students’ free speech. FIRE works with other universities nationwide, free of charge, to revise policies to ensure institutions meet First Amendment standards.

For more information about FIRE and what the organization does, contact FIRE’s campus Policy Reform team at speechcodes@thefire.org.

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Lafayette teen recognized as a 2024 Louisiana Young Hero for efforts to ‘change the world’

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Lafayette teen recognized as a 2024 Louisiana Young Hero for efforts to ‘change the world’


Sixteen-year-old Donald “Tré” Bishop lives by the motto, “Go out every day and change the world.”

That motto helped earn him the honor of being a 2024 Louisiana Young Hero, a program celebrating young people who have excelled in academics and public service.

Born and raised in Lafayette, Bishop has contributed to his community by doing small things that have made significant impacts, a news release said. He once saved his allowance to buy socks for the homeless. At 11 years old, he created a political sign recycling program. And in 2023, he raised $49,500 in three days to help St. Bernadette Clinic and the Lourdes Foundation.

Growing up with parents who were heavily involved in the community inspired him from a young age.

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“I grew up around parents who help the community a lot,” he said. “My mom would volunteer for St. Jude and is a part of a lot of nonprofit boards, and my dad is in politics and fights for what is right. That one Christmas, I spent my allowance to buy socks for the homeless, I remember the faces of those I helped, and saw the impact of helping someone, from there knew I wanted to help others.”

Determined to keep Louisiana beautiful, Bishop worked with his peers, school, political candidates, local mayors, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and former Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to create a program to recycle political signs and formed a sustainable collaborative to keep them out of landfills, according to Bishop’s LPB bio.

He partnered with Wreaths Across America to recycle the stakes for veterans’ graves. In 2021, he contributed to the passage of Bill HCR70 in the Louisiana Legislature, which encourages and assists with local collection and recycling of campaign signs.

“I am currently working on my recycling project which is a long-term project, and I am looking to run another bill to expand it further, but aside from that I am still working and volunteering for any good cause,” Bishop said.

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He is a member of the Beta Club and English Honors Society as a sophomore at Ascension Episcopal School. Bishop said his spare time is dedicated to his community work.

“Balancing work and school is easy because school is my first priority and right after I focus on any free time I have with investing in my work,” he said. “My dad and my mom helped me become the person I am today. When I go to bed at night, I think, ‘Did I do something today that helps the world?’”

LPB website defines a Young Hero as an exceptional high school student who has excelled in academics, given significantly of themselves through public service, overcome personal adversity, exhibited extraordinary heroism, or inspired others through their deeds and strength of character to become better students, persons, and citizen.

Bishop said he hopes to study environmental law.

“Having my own firm is what I’d love, and later in life go into politics, because I love the environment, and come back to do Louisiana politics like my dad used to do,” he said.

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“Seeing a young man do so remarkable, both his father and I are very proud of him,” his mother, Kimberly Bishop, said. “It’s so amazing to see that when you give your children a little bit of what you do in life, how that impacts them. My husband serves in the Legislature, and I’ve always been involved in volunteering and nonprofits. So to see how he utilizes and navigate the world is amazing, and I am so proud of him, and he is such a good son.”

“I can’t wait to see what the future holds for a child like this, and I can only imagine what the future holds for Louisiana and what he may bring and come back to do for his community.”

Louisiana Young Heroes recognize role models within the local communities with over 200 past honorees who have received this award, according to the program.

“It’s such an honor, and I am so happy to be represented as someone who has made an impact,” Bishop said. “For everyone who sees this I want them to feel like I want to go out and make a change like he did”

“LPB is excited to present the stories of this year’s Young Heroes. The resilience, tenacity, and bravery demonstrated by each serve as inspiration for all of us.” LPB President and CEO Clarence “C.C” Copeland said.

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Other Young Heroes for the 2024 year are:

These inspiring students will be celebrated during Louisiana Young Heroes Day with a special luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion, recognized on the legislative floor of the State Capitol, and have their remarkable journeys told at 8 p.m. June 14 on LPB.



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