Miami Herald Editorial
June 26, 2017
Florida lawmakers received a final grade on their support for public-records laws during this year’s legislative session in Tallahassee — a score given by Florida newspapers with information culled by the state’s premier open-government group, the First Amendment Foundation.
Unfortunately, lawmakers’ scores are nothing to boast about to their constituents back home. And South Florida legislators barely made a respectable grade.
For its Sunshine Week project, a nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of transparent government, members of the Florida Society of News Editors created a scoring system to grade legislators on their introduction of public-records bills, final votes, and overall support of the Sunshine Law, the oldest state-level open-government law in the country, giving citizens the right to public records.
Of the 160 state legislators, three received Fs; 77 got Ds; 71 got Cs; and nine earned Bs.
Local lawmakers scored poorly, except for State Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, the only B+ in the group. Good for him for having more than a modicum of respect for the spirit of the Sunshine Law.
Lawmakers were graded largely on their support of crucial bills calling for secrecy or actions away from public scrutiny.
Besides bills, there are other ways to circumvent the people’s right to know, and Florida lawmakers made use of it at the last session.
Barbara Petersen, head of the First Amendment Foundation told the Herald the recent session accounted for “a near record number of new exemptions created,” or devious ways to get around the law. The session gave birth to 26 exemptions and expanded another, then instituted yet one more exemption during its special session. Gov. Rick Scott who must sign bills into law, should support transparency over secrecy.
As more and more Floridians take civic engagement seriously, we hope that, when they run up against a public-records brick wall, they will remember the lawmakers who got them there, and ask, Why are you hiding this from us? [READ MORE]