Bill seeks to stop agencies from suing over records requests

Associated Press by Brendan Farrington

March 13, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida House committee approved a bill Wednesday that’s aimed at preventing government agencies from going to court to try to block the public’s constitutionally protected access to government records.

Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues said there’s a growing trend of agencies using the courts in an effort to avoid fulfilling public records requests. He said what government agencies should be doing is providing the requested records or citing the exemption under law that allows them to keep the records from the public. If the requestor doesn’t agree the exemption applies to the records sought, the requestor can then sue the agency. If the requestor wins, the agency has to reimburse his or her legal costs.

“What we are seeing happen across the state in a number of entities is that rather than providing the record or the exemption, instead, the government entity is filing a civil suit against the individual,” Rodrigues said.

Unlike when an individual sues for access to a record, when an agency initiates the lawsuit and loses, it doesn’t have to pay the legal costs of the record requestor. Rodrigues said that could have a chilling effect on people seeking records they’re entitled to.

“What this bill would do is it would crack down on that practice and say, ’No, a government entity can’t respond to a public records request by initiate a civil lawsuit against an individual who has filed the request,” Rodrigues said.

The House Oversight, Transparency and Public Management Subcommittee voted 7-4 in favor of the bill. The four no votes were cast by Democrats.

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