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What are my rights to examine public records?

The right to examine public records was initially established by the Louisiana Legislature which adopted Act 195 in the Regular Session of 1940. Since that time the legislature has adopted numerous amendments to that act that became Title 44 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950, which is its present legal citation. 

Act 195 of 1940 was adopted under the reform administration of Governor Sam Jones during the Post-Huey P. Long era. 
1. Define the term “public record”.
2. Provide exceptions.
3. Allow electors or taxpayers to inspect public records.
4. To require custodians to produce public records for inspections and copying.
5. Provide procedures for enforcement by hearing cases on a preferential basis.
6. To provide a criminal penalty for hindering a person attempting to examine a public record.
7. And to provide for preservation of public records.
In the Constitutional Convention of 1973, the delegates believed that Louisiana’s constitution should be amended to provide the citizens with a constitutional provision that guarantees the public free access to the activities of its government. Thus, the convention submitted to the electorate a proposed constitution which included Article XII, Section 3, entitled “Right to Direct Participation”. That proposed constitution was adopted by the electorate and became the Louisiana Constitution of 1974. 

Article XII, Section 3 provides, in part, as follows: 

§3. Right to Direct Participation 

No person shall be denied the right to … examine public documents, except in cases established by law. (Emphasis added) 

This provision does not constitute an absolute guarantee, and is not totally self-executing. It has provided the Legislature with an express power to enact limitations on the rights extended by the Constitution, and has recognized the existence of the existing body of law pertaining to public records. Also, Article XIV, Section 18, specifically provided that: 

“Laws in force on the effective date of this constitution, which were constitutional when enacted and are not in conflict with this constitution, shall remain in effect until altered or repealed or until they expire by their own limitation.” 

Thus, Title 44 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes was continued.