Open-government group seeks lawmakers’ text messages

by Orlando Sentinel’s Gray Rohrer

June 16, 2017

An open-government group is stepping into a fight over public records, asking legislative leaders to produce text messages from lawmakers and update their policies for retaining and keeping electronic records.

On Friday, the First Amendment Foundation sent a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, asking them to produce text messages sent by lawmakers. The texts were first requested by Matt Dixon, bureau chief of Politico Florida.

“It is incumbent on each government official – in this case, each legislator subject to the request – to make a search for responsive records on his or her personal device,” FAF president Barbara Petersen wrote. The Orlando Sentinel is a member of FAF.

State law requires text messages discussing government business to be available to the public whether they are sent on a government-issued cell phone or personal device.

Petersen also asked the Legislature to consider using email and text management software that would automatically preserve text messages.

She pointed to Orange County, which had its own “textgate” situation in 2013, as an example of a local government that is already using such software. Four Orange County commissioners and Orange Mayor Teresa Jacobs each had to pay $500 fines for deleting text messages during a fight over a proposed paid sick time referendum in 2012.

Petersen’s letter follows a letter from Politico lawyers to Corcoran and Negron, which stated that some lawmakers said they had no text messages related to the request, even though other lawmakers produced texts showing they did. [READ MORE]

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