THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 19, 2015………. A proposal intended to make it tougher for evildoers to track the home addresses of military service members and military families has been sent to Gov. Rick Scott.
However, the leader of an open-government group that has asked Scott to veto the measure (HB 185) argues it will simply create a hardship for county record-keepers and may do little to provide actual security.
“This is huge in terms of redactions that are going to have to be made,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. “I understood what they were trying to do. I just don’t think they thought it through.”
The House sent 20 bills to Scott on Monday, including the proposal that would allow all current and past members of the U.S. armed forces, reserves or National Guard who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, along with their spouses and dependents, to request that home and personal information be exempt from state public records.
Scott has until June 2 to sign, veto or let the bill become law. A spokeswoman for Scott said in an email Tuesday that he is reviewing the legislation.
The measure sailed through the Legislature without opposition in the House or Senate.
“Those who are protecting the First Amendment feel very good about this,” Rep. Jimmie Smith, an Inverness Republican and veteran of Desert Storm, told House members during an April 16 floor debate on the bill.
“As strongly as we feel about the public-records laws, we need to protect the people who are protecting us,” agreed Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura.
The military-exemption proposal was filed in January to provide coverage for special-forces members. The measure was expanded after the names, photos and personal information of 100 U.S. military personnel, including at least three in Florida, were identified in March by a group claiming allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known as ISIS.
“There are a number of military spouses who work in the business I work in back in my district, and there is a high level of concern and a high level of knowledge regarding this potential threat,” bill sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, told members of the House Local & Federal Affairs Committee last month.
The group posting the threat claimed it had hacked several military servers and email. However, the information was more likely found by matching information posted on social media with military records that are available online, Petersen said.
The Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation has asked Scott to veto the proposal, pointing to unnecessary burdens for clerks, property appraisers and others in areas such as Jacksonville, Tampa and Northwest Florida where there are large numbers of active and retired military personnel.
Petersen said she didn’t oppose the bill as initially filed, but now questions how much the proposal will actually protect people.
“ISIS did not make a public records request,” Petersen said. “But right after that list came out, the U.S. military said we put all that information up.”
Florida is home to more than 61,000 active-duty military personnel, 12,000 members of the Florida National Guard, and 1.5 million veterans, of whom more than 231,000 served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to state records.
And as Florida actively pursues more veterans to relocate to the Sunshine State, Petersen said the measure is too broadly defined.
“If you served after 9/11, regardless of what you did, you could have been a warrant officer in Kansas and retired to Florida and your home address is going to be exempt,” Petersen said.
Petersen said the bill also creates an additional public record, as government officials will have to make copies of any military identification used by people to prove they are active or former members of the military.
“That now becomes public record subject to disclosure,” Petersen said. “A tax collector can’t just take it as verification and give it back. They have to make a record of it. Case law says even if they look at it, they have received it for the purpose of a public records law.”
The bill is the fourth of four public-records exemptions that the First Amendment Foundation has asked Scott to veto. (Disclosure: The News Service of Florida is a member of the foundation.)
Scott has already signed two of the bills. One (SB 200) exempts taxpayers’ email addresses obtained by tax collectors in the process of sending tax notices. The other bill (SB 7040) applies to email addresses that the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles collects related to driver’s licenses and motor-vehicle records.
Scott has until Friday to sign or veto another measure (SB 248) that would create a public-records exemption for certain videos made by police body cameras. The exemption would apply to videos made on private property without the approval of a property owner or individual.