Naples Daily News
March 10, 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.
In the ongoing session of the Legislature, 123 bills that would either extend existing exemptions or create new ones are up for debate.
Some exemptions, like those protecting the identities of victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking, we understand and support.
Others, like a proposal this year to make exempt the identities of applicants for university president posts, are dubious.