No sign this will force disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracking
Tampa Bay Times by Mary Ellen Klas
October 26, 2017
Companies that do business in Florida would no longer be able to hide behind a trade secrets exemption to shield financial information and contracts from the public — unless they first get a court’s permission — under legislation filed Thursday in the Florida House.
The measures, HB 459 and HB 461, filed by Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican, are designed to target what House Speaker Richard Corcoran said has become a widespread abuse of the state public records law used by government contractors to shield basic financial information.
“If you spend one penny of taxpayers dollars, you don’t have that trade secret exemption,″ Corcoran said Thursday at a press conference in Tallahassee.
Together, the bills require that any contractual agreement with a local tourism development board to be disclosed to the public and repeals 75 definitions of trade secrets in an attempt to streamline the law that has been expanded as a way to keep from the public the explosion of public-private partnerships and other contracts.
Neither Corcoran or Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, would say whether the disclosure would apply to companies that use the trade secret exemption to shield the chemicals used in oil and gas fracking activities. Caldwell noted that the House has tried and failed to get the state Senate to pass legislation that would allow the Department of Environmental Protection to designate what chemicals meet the definition of trade secret, not the companies.
“This is a gray area we continue to ought to address,″ Caldwell said.
In recent years, State Farm Insurance has used the trade secrets statute to prevent disclosure of the number of policies it holds in Florida. The Seminole Tribe has used the trade secrets exemption to prevent disclosure of the revenues it makes from its monopoly operation of slot machines in Florida. And the Florida Republican Party claimed that it could not disclose information relating to redistricting because it would have exposed the “trade secrets” of its political consultants.
“Anything that is a public record and meets the traditional definition of public record should be made public,″ Caldwell said. “Narrowing this down to a single definition provides the greatest opportunity for transparency.”
He said the measure was spawned by the $1 million Pit Bull contract that Visit Florida refused to release to the Florida House last year, claiming it was a trade secret. Corcoran sued and the agency settled and released the information.
The proposal also specifically excludes from the definition of “trade secret” any government agency contract or agreement and any related financial information.
If the bills are passed into law, any agency contract, agreement, and any related financial information would be deemed a public record unless it is exempt from public record requirements.
If a company wants to claim a public record is a trade secret, the bill requires it to petition a circuit court to determine if the information meets the definition of a trade secret.
The House also filed legislation that attempts to expand legislation last year that attempts to increase accountability of local tourism development organizations. [READ MORE]