Tallahassee Democrat by Editorial Board
March 9, 2019
Today marks the start of Sunshine Week, when Florida news organizations celebrate freedom of the press and focus public attention on threats to the people’s right to know what government is up to.
As the Legislature convenes its 2019 session, media watchdogs have more to worry about than usual. Barbara Petersen, the long-time attorney who heads the First Amendment Foundation of Florida, counted 97 bills that she will be tracking in the next two months.
And the session is young.
Some of the bills are routine re-authorizations for existing exemptions to public-records and open-meeting laws. But some are ominous — and in our view, unnecessary — intrusions on First Amendment freedoms and the taxpayers’ right to hold government accountable.
Right here in Tallahassee, we have a conflict over “Marsy’s Law,” the constitutional amendment voters approved last November to assure crime victims and their families a voice in court proceedings. The Tallahassee Police Department and Leon County Sheriff’s Office disagree on whether the amendment requires withholding of names of victims, among other facts in a case.
Petersen said one of the worst bills this year is a proposal to exempt from public disclosure all photos, videos and audio recordings of victims of mass violence. It’s a result of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas murders last year and the Pulse Nightclub slaughter in Orlando.
Petersen said a consortium of media organizations had to go to court — at a cost of about $100,000 — to gain access to the Parkland videos. As a result, the media were able to show slow response by Broward County law enforcement — deputies not entering the school, flawed procedures, improper instructions and failure to follow police policies.