In almost every session of the Legislature, there are bills that would remove from public record some portion of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law. Some sponsors have said their bills’ provisions are for security and safety.
But one bill filed this year has members of the First Amendment Foundation, who thought they had seen it all, scratching their heads.
House Bill 559, sponsored by Rep. Brad Drake, R- Marianna, and Senate Bill 846 by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, would remove from public record the locations of privately built artificial reefs.
Individuals or groups planning to build their own reefs can obtain permission from the state to construct the structures — using approved materials — but must give the location within the approved area to officials in charge of keeping track of and inspecting the privately built and government-built reefs. Most such structures are in the Gulf of Mexico.
The bills propose that locations of privately built reefs not be posted by county and state recordkeepers, but maintained out of public sight by the agencies required to inspect them. So, an individual fisherman could not go to the county or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to find the coordinates of a privately built reef. But if fishermen should come across the reef out in the ocean, they would be allowed to fish or dive there because no one owns the ocean waters.
Currently, privately built artificial reefs are found at myfwc.com/conservation/saltwater/artificial-reefs/locate-reefs/ .
“Why in heck would you keep reef locations secret from the public?” asked Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. “It is open ocean, and there could be obstructions as well.”
With more than 2 million people annually fishing or diving near reefs, they are an important part of Florida’s recreation economy. The FWC estimates about $250 million in economic benefit from the activities.
Supporters and the two sponsors maintain that some people pulling permits to build their own reefs give false locations for the reefs. By keeping the locations private, the state can get a true location of most of the reefs so they can be inspected and maintained.
Opponents say why not simply fine those who purposefully give the wrong coordinates for giving false information?
Petersen said keeping locations from the general public is wrong and could be dangerous, adding that the “hidden reefs bill” is one of several “nibbles” at the public records laws this session.
HOLD THE BOOZE
Adults visiting Haines City’s Railroad Park and Lake Eva Park will have to wait a little more than a year to buy an alcoholic beverage at the parks.
Haines City had made a request through Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, to have a local bill filed this year allowing the city to sell the drinks at the two parks. But with the annual Polk County legislative delegation meeting delayed until January this year, there was not enough time to get a local bill — one that pertains solely to a specific area — filed in the Legislature.
Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, who would be the legislator to file the bill, said the delegation had agreed on the bill, but it will have to wait until the 2016 session to be filed. With unanimous agreement of the local delegation, the Legislature almost never turns down a local bill.
Original article here.