February 6, 2017
Former President Ronald Reagan used to quote a Russian adage to describe his approach to the Soviet Union: Trust, but verify.
The same approach makes sense for Floridians when dealing with state and local government agencies. And one of the sharpest tools available to citizens for verification is the state’s open-records law; it guarantees them access to most records of government agencies, so they can see for themselves just how those agencies are spending their tax dollars. Voters elevated this access to a constitutional right in 1992.
But for the second year in a row a state legislator, Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, has introduced a bill that would gut the open-records law. Legislators had the good sense to kill the bill last year when Steube was a House member. He’s a senator now, holding the powerful role of chairman of his chamber’s Judiciary Committee, but his promotion hasn’t made his bill any better.
Currently, government agencies in Florida that violate the open-records law must reimburse the attorney’s fees of citizens who take them to court to enforce the law. It’s the only real enforcement mechanism in the law to deter agencies from flouting it.