WJXT Jacksonville by News Service of Florida
April 20, 2017
The Florida House on Thursday gave final approval to an attempted compromise in a debate about attorney fees in public-records lawsuits.
House members voted unanimously to approve the bill (SB 80), sponsored in the House by Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills.
The measure passed the Senate last month and is ready to go to Gov. Rick Scott. State law requires judges to award attorney fees to people who successfully file lawsuits against government agencies that have improperly withheld public records.
But local governments have contended in recent years that the law is being abused by people who inundate government agencies with public-records requests as a strategy to file lawsuits and receive attorney fees or settlements.
Local governments asked lawmakers to make the award of attorney fees discretionary, but the idea drew fierce opposition from open-government advocates. That led to efforts to reach a compromise.
The bill approved Thursday would keep in place the requirement that agencies pay attorney fees if they improperly withhold records. But it also includes changes, such as requiring that notice be given at least five days before lawsuits are filed, that could help agencies avoid potential litigation. [READ MORE]