Win looming for Sunshine

Rep. Byron Donalds

The News-Press Editorial

April 19, 2017

A victory is on the horizon for preservation of government transparency, openness, accountability and Sunshine.

One of the worst bills to ever move through the Florida Legislature, attacking the Sunshine Law, the heart of the public’s right to know, is about to die in the Florida Legislature without making it out of committee and onto the House floor for a vote.

Naples Rep. Byron Donalds’ proposed bill – if passed by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Rick Scott – would allow for two elected members from a city or county governing body of at least five to meet in private and discuss future business to be voted on by that body, and without the public ever knowing what decisions were reached. The bill was set to bring down the Sunshine Law, which requires all discussions by elected officials of these governing bodies to be done in an advertised and public meeting.

Donalds’ bill is currently residing in the Government Accountability Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers. He controls which bills are heard in his committee with the purpose of moving forward to a possible full House vote. Caldwell has concerns with the bill, as does The News-Press editorial board, all other media outlets and most Florida residents. If Caldwell isn’t convinced by Donalds the bill has any worth – which it doesn’t – in a meeting Monday with the representative, Caldwell will not hear the bill and it will die in his committee. Caldwell doesn’t expect to be convinced and fortunately for Florida residents this threat to Sunshine will fall into darkness. The companion bill in the Senate also is going nowhere.

Requiring our city and county elected officials to discuss business that impacts our taxpayer dollars should always be done in a public setting and with public input so that officials can then vote full informed by not only the information they have received from government staff but also with what was said by the public. If an official is allowed to meet with another in private, reach a decision and continue to daisy chain the process throughout the elected body, then a decision will already be reached by the time the public vote is taken, rendering the public voice useless.

The Sunshine Law and Florida’s broad public records laws were created to protect all of us and keep government accountable. Most of the time, they work and we are informed about decisions and how they were reached. Donald’s was wrong to file the bill. Caldwell is right to kill it. [READ MORE]

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