by POLITICO’s Daniel Ducassi
March 14, 2017
A compromise over contentious legislation aimed at rooting out abuses of Florida’s public records law was reached Monday evening, and unanimously approved in a Senate panel Tuesday afternoon.
The proposal, (SB 80) sponsored by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, had drawn staunch opposition from transparency advocates, the Florida First Amendment Foundation, which has argued that such a change would remove the teeth that protects Floridian’s right to access public records.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the bill as it was originally introduced really had a negative impact on the public’s ability to hold its government accountable for violations of our constitutional right of access,” FAF president Barbara Petersen told POLITICO Florida.
The original version would have made it optional for judges to award attorneys fees to someone who successfully sued over public records violations. The bill has enjoyed support from the Florida League of Cities, as municipalities are common targets for some who try to exploit the public records law, while transparency advocates had rejected it.
But Petersen said she and the League arrived at a compromise Monday evening that resulted in the amendment on Tuesday.
That amendment keeps the provision in law that requires judges to award attorneys fees to successful litigants, but instructs judges to award attorneys fees against litigants who file frivolous or bad faith lawsuits.
There’s also a requirement that a requester notify the agency public records custodian at least five days before filing a lawsuit in order to obtain attorneys fees.
Attempts at similar legislation have failed in years past, and a House bill (HB 163) based on a compromise bill from last year cleared its first committee last week. That bill, sponsored by Republican Danny Burgess, doesn’t include the provisions about awarding fees against bad faith or frivolous litigants, but could be the vehicle for a House equivalent if amended to line up with Steube’s proposal.
Ultimately, Petersen said, “it’s a whole lot better than it was.” [READ MORE]