The Daytona Beach News Journal Opinion
March 21, 2019
People can’t participate in civic life if they don’t know what officials are doing .
This year’s legislative session could be the best of news and the worst of news for Floridians’ access to the inner workings of their government.
Today, we’re going to look at the bright spots. Barbara Petersen, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, is tracking a group of bills that would expand, and solidify, government’s responsibility to keep its residents informed — and underscore the public’s right to speak before their elected leaders act on their behalf. People can’t participate in civic life if they don’t know what officials are doing — and once they’ve found out, they should have the right to tell their leaders what they think.
Those bills include:
• House Bill 285/Senate Bill 518: Requires advance publication of meeting agendas, and guarantees the right of the public to speak at meetings. This bill should resonate strongly with residents in several cities across Volusia and Flagler counties, who have been rightfully incensed to see controversial issues pop up during comment periods, or be added to agendas at the last minute. If this bill becomes law, meeting agendas — with all supporting materials and attachments — would have to be published at least three days before a meeting, and be available for inspection at the meeting. There’s still a little wiggle room — as Petersen notes, wily politicians will always find a loophole — but this is a clear and ringing endorsement of the public’s right to prior notice. It also guarantees residents the right to speak for at least three minutes on any item included on the agenda, and requires members of the board or commission to respond, if necessary, within 10 days.