Port blueprints in Louisiana could be made confidential for ‘national security’

Bill exempts ports from public records

By: - April 22, 2022 7:10 pm
Port blueprints in Louisiana could be made confidential for ‘national security’

Port of New Orleans. (Photo by Gnovick at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MSC_Marina_docked_at_Port_of_New_Orleans.jpg)

In the name of national security, the Louisiana Legislature plans to add another exemption to the Louisiana public records law.

House Bill 249, sponsored by Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington, would shield blueprints and floor plans for port facilities from public view. The House passed the bill Wednesday in a 97-0 vote without any debate, and the bill similarly flew through its initial hearing in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee on April 12. 

“Our ports are super important elements of our state as everybody knows,” Wright said at the committee meeting, adding that there are elements of ports dealing with “heavy security.” 

Lawmakers passed a similar bill last year for airports and one for public school buildings in 2020. 

The Louisiana Press Association was initially against Wright’s bill but withdrew its opposition when Wright agreed to an amendment that allowed for the disclosure of a port’s plans and architectural renderings when they are used during a public bidding process.

The bill’s original version called for the complete confidentiality of those documents. In a phone interview, Louisiana Press Association attorney Scott Sternberg said it was important to ensure journalists could still access renderings, plans and contracts vital to the public when governments are permitting such construction projects.

In the post Sept. 11 era, urban planners, engineers and architects have adopted a counter-terrorism approach in the construction of public buildings and infrastructure, incorporating security features into planning documents. The new World Trade Center Freedom Tower, for instance, was built to prevent damage from bomb attacks, according to an article in Building Design and Construction

HB 249 next heads to the Senate for consideration.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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