Tampa Bay Times Editorial
June 26, 2017
They are Tampa Bay’s Disciples of Darkness. These 12 Florida House members consistently voted this year to keep more public records secret and allow public officials to discuss the public’s business in private. They all received D’s in a legislative scorecard on open government produced by the Florida Society of News Editors. Even those low grades are generous, because Florida’s government-in-the-sunshine laws would have been gutted if all of the terrible bills they voted for would have become law.
These 12 Tampa Bay legislators, who happen to be all Republicans, aren’t alone. The FSNE scorecard handed out three F’s (none in Tampa Bay), 77 D’s, 71 C’s and 9 B’s. But these 12 shared the same disappointing voting records. They all voted to allow two members of any school board, county commission or city council to meet in secret to discuss public business without any public notice or record of what was said. That is illegal now, and it would have taken government into the dark back rooms of 50 years ago.
Florida has a long tradition of government-in-the-sunshine, and the Florida Constitution and state law provide for open government meetings and public records. Those protections are under serious threat, and support for open government by the governor and the Florida Legislature is the lowest it has been in decades. FSNE’s new report card, based on information provided by the nonprofit First Amendment Foundation (disclosure: Times managing editor Jennifer Orsi is an FSNE board member and editor of editorials Tim Nickens is a foundation board member), reveals how the votes of each legislator contribute to the dark cloud over open government. Many of these issues will be back next year, and voters should hold their lawmakers accountable. [READ MORE]