A measure before the Legislature would slap a “top secret” stamp on surveillance video held by neighborhood development districts but opposition is growing in Hillsborough County.
Tampa’s Westchase Community Development District passed a resolution earlier this month urging lawmakers to vote against the Senate and House bills, SB 962/HB 537.
The district straddles West Linebaugh Avenue and encompasses more than 3,500 homes with nearly 7,500 registered voters, as well as apartment complexes and businesses, according to the resolution.
The surveillance bills say their purpose is to ensure the privacy of residents.
Courts, however, have generally held there is no expectation of privacy in public places. Cameras usually watch in and around community pools, clubhouses and neighborhood entrances.
Closing surveillance video to public view will decrease its effectiveness as a crime prevention tool, the Westchase resolution says.
“Frankly, it’s un-American,” said Greg Chesney, the district’s vice chairman. “There’s nothing wrong with sharing public information for the benefit of all of us.”
Such districts are creations of the state Legislature, meant in part as an alternative to incorporating as a city. The more than 600 independent, elected bodies may handle street lighting, stormwater management and sewer service, among other things.
The bills are backed by two Tampa Bay lawmakers — John Legg, a Republican state senator from Trinity, and Danny Burgess, a Republican state representative from San Antonio. They did not respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon.
The measures would make surveillance tapes “confidential and exempt” from the state’s public records law.
Provisions would allow limited disclosures to law enforcement, residents and property owners, or to others if ordered by a judge.
“The exemption for surveillance recordings allows districts to effectively and efficiently provide security and surveillance while maintaining the privacy of the residents and guests,” the Senate bill says.
“Without the public records exemption, coverage and other technical aspects of the surveillance system would be revealed and would make it easier for individuals who wish to evade detection by the surveillance systems to do so,” it adds.
Barbara Petersen, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog of the state’s Sunshine Laws, said the proposed exemption is “unwarranted, and the need for it is murky at best.”
“The CDDs are saying if the bill becomes law, the use of the videos by the CDDs themselves will be compromised and costs will increase,” Petersen said. “So then why is our Legislature considering creating another exception to our right of access? It makes no sense.”
The Senate bill will next be considered by that chamber’s Rules committee. The House version has cleared all its committees and is ready for consideration on the floor.
The annual legislative session is scheduled to conclude May 1.
Original article here.