Naples Daily News – Gainesville Sun
March 16, 2020
Florida has long enjoyed a reputation for having broad public records and open meeting laws.
But, like waves lapping at Florida’s sandy beaches, there are unrelenting efforts to erode those laws.
Sunshine Week, March 15-21, is a chance to celebrate open government and to recommit to the vigilance required to maintain it.
Chapter 119 of Florida Statutes begins by defining public records as “all documents, papers, letters … made or received … in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency.”
In other words, if the government has the document, and that includes electronic records, photos and videos, then it is presumed to be a public record.
If government officials want to withhold a document, they have to cite an exemption to the law.
You might be surprised to learn how many exemptions there are. The First Amendment Foundation, a government watchdog group committed to advancing the cause of open records, counts no fewer than 1,150 existing exemptions to public access.
Each year, the Legislature considers a raft of new exemptions and each year, the First Amendment Foundation, which is supported financially by this and other news organizations in the state, sounds the alarm and advocates on the side of continued public access.
This year we see a new affront to the public’s right to know in the form of a veil of secrecy shrouding elections systems and security.