BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A House committee Wednesday, May 27 killed a plan that sought to protect personal information belonging to people employed by a company that receives a state tax break, primarily over concerns politicians might be able to use the loophole to pass out tax incentives to their friends unchecked.
The bill, pushed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce and carried by Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, would have exempted “personally identifiable information of any employee whose information is submitted to the Department of Economic Development (LED) pursuant to an agreement with the department for any incentive program" from public records law.
Right now, companies that receive tax breaks must submit a list of all employees they retain to LED so the state can verify the company is meeting benchmarks for job creation agreed upon in exchange for tax relief. Some employee data, including names and salaries, are included on that report, which is public record.
“'Joe' that works for company X - he didn’t sign up for a public life,” Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulphur, said. “He just went to work and he probably has no idea that any of this other world exists.”
White’s plan would have only publicized majority shareholders’ names, hypothetically meaning a politician could offer a tax break to a company partially owned by a relative and the public would be unaware. LED already redacts certain sensitive employee information when it is requested through open records law.
“I just want to know their name, what they’re doing, and how much they’re getting paid,” Louisiana Press Association attorney Scott Sternberg said. “That’s what we need to know to make sure this is accountable, because self-policing does not work.”
“The press and the people are not interested in people’s social security numbers or harassing employees,” he continued, noting that social security numbers are redacted. “We just want to know if the governor’s brother is on the payroll.”
The Senate had passed the plan, 37-0, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle killed the bill in the House committee. Lawmakers said they did not question the intent of the bill, but worried it might do more harm than good.
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