TALLAHASSEE — Some Florida lawmakers received better grades this year when it came to transparency in government, but erosion of the state’s famed “Sunshine Laws” continued with more exemptions passed.
Lawmakers passed 12 bills creating new exemptions this year, including measures to block access to building plans for health care facilities; U.S. Census Bureau address information; data used by a state-run insurance company; and documents revealing the valuation of surplus lands held by water management districts.
The exemptions continue a bipartisan trend among lawmakers, who have approved more than 269 of them to the Sunshine Laws since 1995. The laws require government meetings to be publicly announced in advance; require officials on government boards to meet in public; and government records to be made available to the public.
“The whole point of open government and access to government information is the opportunity to oversee our government and hold it accountable,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, an open government advocacy group that produced the report card in conjunction with the Florida Society of News Editors.
The analysis resulted in more positive grades to many lawmakers compared with last year, especially House members, who voted for bills that would have strengthened transparency. Nearly 78 percent of the 117 sitting House members – 91 in total – received grades of B- or higher. But only six members received an A; the other 85 received Bs.
The House passed bills to prevent state agencies and local governments from taking to court citizens and groups that request public records and to clarify what counts under “trade secret” exemptions.
Those measures, however, failed to get through the Senate, which hurt that chamber’s scoring significantly. Twenty-three senators, more than half of the 38 sitting members in that chamber, received Fs. [READ MORE]