Hillary’s emails are all the rage.
Did she delete the juiciest stuff from her time as secretary of state?
We may never know.
In Florida we have laws to prevent this sort of thing from happening. At least in theory.
Gov. Rick Scott tried to argue that emails on personal accounts weren’t subject to the law, but recently gave up on that strategy and conceded he would take steps to make them available to the public.
This state’s “Sunshine” law, one of the best laws to ensure open government in the country, requires public access to government emails. And text messages. And handwritten notes.
Or just about anything else you can imagine no matter whether the official business was created on a government or personal device or account.
During the next week you’re going to see stories marking Sunshine Week, an annual event devoted to celebrating the importance and the impact of transparency laws across the country.
But Florida has a problem.
Our public-records law, which originated more than 100 years ago, is under attack.
From all sides, from all parties.
The Legislature’s approach is death by 1,000 cuts.
Make that 1,100.
That’s the number of exemptions lawmakers have passed to deprive you of access to information about your government.
In 1985 exemptions numbered just 250.
We’re averaging about 25 exemptions each year.
The people elected to protect the public trust seem intent on eroding it.
More exemptions are in the works this year.
One of the most ridiculous (though several fall into that category) is a broad exemption proposed by Sen. Chris Smith to make secret certain recordings by police via body cameras.
You know, the devices that are supposed to increase public confidence in the way police handle calls? The Democrat from Fort Lauderdale wants to broadly exempt many of those videos.
When lawmakers aren’t chipping away at the law, bureaucrats are doing everything in their power to thwart it.
The law allows governments to charge reasonable fees for finding and copying records.
But, in too many cases, these costs are anything but reasonable.
Take the case of Jason Parsley, executive editor of the South Florida Gay News.
He asked the Broward County Sheriff’s Office last year for emails and other communication among deputies over a four-month period that contained specific words such as “gay” and “lesbian,” as well as derogatory terms for gay people.
The Sheriff’s Office responded that the request would cost $399,420 and take about four years to complete.
“It was so totally absurd,” Parsley told me. “Clearly, we can’t afford that.”
And that’s the point.
If there isn’t an exemption to shut down information, government agencies can just make it too expensive to obtain.
This isn’t just the media’s problem. Private citizens request information from government only to find they can’t foot the bill.
A resident of Volusia County, for example, was “horrified” several years ago when she discovered her request for specific emails from 10 county officials would cost $1,200.
Her testimony was included in a 2009 report by the state’s Commission on Open Government Reform.
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said unreasonable fees are a growing barrier to public information.
“Our public agencies are not designing and developing their electronic databases with public access in mind, which they are required to do,” she said. “That’s been required since 1995.”
Why aren’t government agencies making access easier? Because there’s no incentive. The law simply allows them to pass the costs for information along to you and me.
If the Legislature was serious about the public trust then it would be considering ways to reform that. Not ways of making information harder to get.
Original article here.