On Tuesday, Florida House Republicans held a closed-door, no-outsiders-allowed meeting on the topic that looks like it’s going to send the Legislature into a special session: health care.
You may ask: Isn’t that illegal? Doesn’t it violate the Sunshine Law?
Turns out, the answer is no.
While the Florida Constitution requires all meetings between two or more lawmakers be “reasonably open to the public,” according to the Florida Attorney General’s FAQ on the subject, “each house is responsible through its rules of procedures for interpreting, implementing and enforcing these provisions.”
Great. Our lawmakers are required by law to be open — except when they don’t want to be.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli insisted that the meeting didn’t violate the law because participants were only having “a history lesson,” not making policy.
Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, was quoted in the Bradenton Herald as saying they discussed “how LIP started, how it existed. We also touched on the issue of Medicaid expansion. Who falls into this population, how much money are we talking about? What does that mean for the local hospitals?”
If that was the case, what was the big secret? You only close the doors if you have something to hide.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, defended the session like this: “One thing that makes this place work is, we have to be able to talk to each other a little bit. It puts a little different light on things, when all the lights are on and the cameras are on, to have a heart to- heart conversation.”
You bet it does. And that’s the whole point.
When the lights and cameras are on, you have to behave better. It’s a whole lot harder to get away with shenanigans the other party — or the public — might not like.
Now, we’re not saying anything untoward happened on Tuesday. But how will we ever know for sure?
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said she believes at the very least the spirit of the law was violated by the GOP lawmakers.
“No meeting could be more important than what happened today, and they decided to shut us out,” she said. “They didn’t have to do that. What would be the harm of letting the public see what they’re doing?”
We agree. What happened on Tuesday would have been a clear violation in local government. How does the law let our state officials get away with it?
In his column today, veteran Capitol reporter Bill Cotterell points out that it wasn’t just the reporters who were kept out of the meeting. “The other 19 million people of Florida were locked out. It’s their money, their lives, their environment and their schools that are affected by what the Legislature does.” (Read the entire column on page A9.) He’s right and the House Republicans who took part in the closed-door meeting should be ashamed.
AP reporter Gary Fineout, who had his ear pressed to the door during the meeting, overheard Crisafulli say, “We’re asking you to trust us.”
You want trust? Be worthy of it.
Original article here.