The Daytona Beach News-Journal
April 12, 2019
Also: Keep notices open to the public
Florida lawmakers are at it again. With three weeks left in the legislative session, they’re slipping shady clauses into bills that would block public access to important records — such as one provision that would throw a cloak of secrecy over millions of law-enforcement records, including ones that could expose law-enforcement bias or influence-peddling in the judicial system.
You’d think something this massive would have merited thoughtful debate — but the House Judiciary Committee didn’t. It’s buried on page 219 of a wide-ranging bill helpfully titled “An act related to public safety.”
The provision under discussion has little to do with safety. It would immediately, automatically and almost completely seal an individual’s official arrest records if prosecutors decide not to file charges, file but later drop charges, or lose a criminal case at trial.
At first glance, there’s a gleam of merit to this provision. People should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and a criminal record can follow someone throughout their life, wreaking havoc. But there’s a way to fix that: Make criminal records more comprehensive, not less. Add a line to arrest records that spells out the disposition of a particular case. Then the record can truly speak for itself. In this data-driven age, where web sites can track what flavor and brand of coffee an Internet user prefers, it should be possible to maintain an accurate, comprehensive account of something as serious as an arrest record.