Florida lawmakers have a funny way of celebrating Sunshine Week: trying to carve further exemptions into the state’s public records and open meetings laws.
We’re halfway through Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of open government laws. Florida’s Sunshine Law is supposed to be a model measure in keeping government transparent and holding public officials accountable.
State lawmakers, however, are making a mockery of the law. They’re considering nearly three dozen proposals to limit Floridians’ access to public records, according to Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation.
This push follows a record-breaking year in which the total exemptions to the public records law increased to more than 1,100, Petersen told the Tampa Bay Times.
Keep in mind that the Republican-controlled chambers that passed these exemptions are filled by skeptics of big government.
Yet they are making it harder for the public and news media to hold government officials accountable for the way that they’re spending taxpayer dollars and making other decisions that impact the public.
The Times reported that bills being considered this session would make it more difficult to obtain email addresses from government agencies, surveillance video from public buildings, and records from state university searches for presidents and other high-ranking officials.
The last issue is of particular concern at the University of Florida, where presidential searches have already been conducted under a veil of secrecy that pushes the boundaries of the Sunshine Law.
Another example of the far-reaching exemptions being considered is bills sponsored by Rep. Chris Latvala and Sen. Jack Latvala, both Pinellas County Republicans.
The bills would exempt information from current and former police officers and their relatives from public records.
A House subcommittee approved the measure Monday. Fortunately, it removed a provision that would have made law enforcement officers’ previous employers secret.
These measures come as Gov. Rick Scott has already stretched if not broken the law in his ouster of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. Discussions about pushing out Bailey appear to have happened outside public meetings, leading to a lawsuit from media organizations.
Not all news is bad on the public records front. Alachua County Clerk of the Court Buddy Irby has been notified that his request to implement an online system for court records has received approval from a state commission and will soon be put to the test, The Sun reported this week.
Other public officials should take note. Transparency and accountability mean making it easier for the public to obtain information — not by putting a cloud of darkness over the Sunshine Law.
Original article here.