October 31, 2017
Article I, Section 23, of the Florida Constitution states: “Right of privacy. Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein. This section shall not be construed to limit the public’s right of access to public records and meetings as provided by law.”
Proposed by the Legislature and adopted by a majority of Florida voters in 1980, this section has enabled state courts to, by and large, delicately balance personal privacy — thoughts, words and deeds — with the government’s interests in protecting other rights vital to individuals and the public. There have been contentious debates, in the Legislature, the public square and the courts, over this part of the state constitution, but this longstanding provision has served the state and its people well — just as it is.
Yet a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission has proposed changing the amendment. That change, if endorsed by a super-majority of the appointed commission’s 37 members and then approved by at least 60 percent of Florida voters in the 2018 general election, would substantially limit the scope of Section 23.
The change has been proposed by commissioner John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer who was appointed to the commission by the speaker of the state House of Representatives. Stemberger, echoing a public proposal by former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell, made this proposed amendment to Section 23: “Right of privacy. Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life with respect to privacy of information and disclosure thereof. except as otherwise provided herein. This section shall not be construed to limit the public’s right of access to public records and meetings as provided by law.” The portion in italics constitutes the proposed change and addition.)
We have three major concerns with the proposal:
• As Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, made clear in a letter to the “Declaration of Rights” committee considering the proposal, it would make it easier for the Legislature to undermine public-records access provisions now guaranteed in the constitution. For instance, Petersen stated, if the amendment was approved, the Legislature would have wider authority to block “private” information — such as financial data about elected officials, text messages between legislators and lobbyists on private phones, or criminal-history records — from public disclosure.
• This is clearly an effort to weaken the privacy clause, which has been cited by Florida courts in response to onerous laws seeking to prohibit abortion or require waiting periods for women seeking to end a pregnancy. Stemberger is president of the Florida Family Policy Council, which strongly opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.
. . .
• The constitution is a document for protecting and expanding rights, not limiting them.
So, leave Section 23 alone. [READ MORE]