June 12, 2019
Former Gov. Rick Scott, it should be remembered, was famous for skirting public records law. Even as he took office, his transition staff announced that all his email had been accidentally deleted. Oops. He used a private email account in an attempt to keep public records secret and then foreswore using email at all. In 2015, he settled seven open-records lawsuits for $700,000 (more than half of that money came out of Department of Environmental Protection’s budget).
And each year when the Legislature passed new exceptions to the Sunshine Law, Scott’s signature could be counted on.
This means that enjoying a better reputation for open government and public records transparency shouldn’t prove difficult for DeSantis.
So far, his record is skimpy and mixed. The Florida Cabinet’s meeting in Israel raised eyebrows and attracted an unsuccessful court challenge. DeSantis dismissed the lawsuit as “frivolous” but it raised legitimate concerns about his commitment to the spirit of the law.
And it remains to be seen how he will react to the Legislature’s slew of Sunshine Law and public records law exemptions.
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, noted that although the Legislature had a record low year for bill passage — just 174 general bills — 25 of them either created new public records exemptions or reauthorized old ones. So yes, that would be 14 percent of this session’s work product devoted to blocking the public’s right to know. A popular topic, it seems.