by Florence Snyder
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is not the worst offender in Florida’s never-ending War on Open Government.
It just gets caught in the act more often than fellow offenders at the state, county and municipal levels.
That’s because DCF is one of the few agencies left which ever has to contend with watchdog journalism.
DCF chieftains, lawyers and flacks are well-acquainted with the well-oiled BS detector of the Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller, a veteran investigative reporter who knows the difference between transparency, and transparent nonsense.
It’s been decades since Florida had an elected statewide official who paid much more than lip service to open government.
In 1992, Florida voters passed, by an 83 percent majority, Amendment 24 to Article 1 of the state constitution. Nicknamed the Sunshine Amendment, it was supposed to drench existing open government laws in a thick coat of permanent sunlight.
Almost immediately, the Legislature began throwing shade and thumbing its nose at voters.
The First Amendment Foundation, which has the depressing task of keeping track, reports that since 1995, the Legislature has passed 240 bills creating exemptions to our open government laws.
The contempt for open government is entirely bipartisan; more than half those bills were approved unanimously by both Legislative chambers. The Senate, which loves to call itself the more “deliberative” chamber, has approved exemptions unanimously 151 times.
Florida’s current attorney general, Pam Bondi, spends a lot of public money in court and a lot of time on cable news “defending” gun rights and gay marriage bans. She insists she’s just doing her job, protecting Florida’s Constitution and guarding against “federal overreach.”
Bondi is far less aggressive when it comes to protecting Florida’s constitutional right of access to public records and meetings. Like most of her recent predecessors, Democrat and Republican alike, Bondi has treated the Sunshine Amendment as an unloved, unwanted poor relation. Think Catelyn Stark and Jon Snow.
Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant. [READ MORE]