The Ledger Editorial
June 27, 2017
State lawmakers might have concluded their business for 2017 recently, but collectively they are still making news.
Over last weekend, the Florida Society of News Editors released its grades for all 160 members of the Legislature related to their support for open government during this year’s sessions. The grades across the board were pretty bad.
Half the Legislature received near-failing or failing grades (77 Ds and three Fs), while the overwhelming majority of the other half struggled to be mediocre (71 Cs). Just nine appeared headed toward the dean’s list with Bs. None received an A.
The FSNE relies on bill- and vote-tracking by the First Amendment Foundation, a Tallahassee-based open government watchdog group, to complete the report card. The news organizations base the grades on how lawmakers voted on measures that either expand access to government documents and meetings or curtail that.
The FSNE had plenty of material to pick from. At one point the FAF was tracking 127 bills that would have affected open government laws in some fashion. The Associated Press reported over the weekend that 28 of them passed this year. If Gov. Rick Scott endorses them all, the total number of exemptions enacted since Florida adopted a state Constitution that guaranteed the public’s right to access government business would rise to 1,150.
Some of the criteria for developing this year’s grades included, for example, votes on whether two members of the same local government’s elected board could set aside Sunshine Law requirements in order to meet, whether major pollution events should be better and more quickly publicized (which was based on the Mosaic Co.‘s sinkhole mishap in Mulberry), whether the identities of murder witnesses should be shielded, or whether to throw more shade around public colleges’ searches for new presidents.
Barbara Petersen, president of the foundation and never one to really sugar-coat things when the public’s right to know is at stake, was remarkably restrained. She declared the grades overall as “disappointing.”
It’s an understatement — perhaps borne of resignation and despair that year after year, no matter how many new faces appear within the Legislature or how strenuously open-government advocates push to keep the light shining on our government records and processes, the results never seem to change.