Here’s an unfortunate case of like father, like son.
Florida Sen. Jack Latvala and state Rep. Chris Latvala, Republicans from Pinellas County, introduced legislation in their respective chambers that would dramatically expand exemptions to Florida’s public-records statutes.
As filed, Senate Bill 1324 and House Bill 1015 would keep secret more information about law enforcement personnel, state attorneys, statewide prosecutors and certain employees in three departments — children and families, health and revenue.
The most troubling exemption would prevent the inspection of records related to the former employment of those workers. As a result, it would become increasingly difficult — if not impossible — to verify whether public employees in those important positions had good or bad records with their former employers.
A Herald-Tribune news investigation in 2011 found that hundreds of law enforcement officers had been allowed to resign from one agency — following acts of misconduct — and were later hired by other departments. Passage of the Latvala legislation would compound the challenges of ensuring that important employees are properly vetted and the public’s interest in accountability is preserved.
According to an article last week by Jessica Floum of the Herald-Tribune, Rep. Latvala said he proposed the bill to protect police officers and their families from threats and identity theft. He said that a Clearwater police officer had his identity stolen recently when personal information — date of birth, Social Security number and home address — was released.
But that information was mistakenly released, in conflict with existing state law that protects much of the personal information belonging to police, sheriff’s deputies, prosecutors and judges.
The Tampa Bay Times reported Friday that Sen. Latvala said he doesn’t want employment histories to be secret and will amend his bill to that effect.
The same news report added: “Rep. Latvala also said he did not intend to shield employment information that would protect wrongdoing by officers.”
Hmm. Did they not read the clear language of their own bills?
HB 1015 is scheduled for a hearing Monday in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, of which Rep. Latvala is a member. He should amend the bill by then and his father should do the same.
But those amendments would not address concerns about other exemptions in the bill — covering second residences, driver’s license numbers, license plate numbers and email addresses — cited by Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation.
Law enforcement officers and employees in sensitive positions do, indeed, deserve some privacy protections that aren’t afforded to other Floridians.
What’s more, we agree with Rep. Latvala that the vast majority of law enforcement officers — and other public employees, for that matter — are good people just doing their jobs.
But the Latvalas’ bills are unnecessarily expansive, may well violate the Florida Constitution’s provisions on public records and seek to solve a “problem” that doesn’t appear to exist. Such qualities don’t make for sound law or public policy.
Original article here.