by the Tallahassee Democrat’s James Call
March 15, 2017
Whether open government advocates celebrate a good National Sunshine Week depends on what the Legislature does Thursday. Public access to government records took a blow Monday when a House Committee approved a measure allowing universities and colleges to keep secret the names of applicants applying to be president.
But on Tuesday, Sen. Greg Steube, the Florida League of Cities and the First Amendment Foundation struck a compromise in a long-running dispute about attorney fees in open-records cases. Steube agreed to drop a demand to replace “shall” with “may” in judicial instructions for the awarding of attorney fees when a government fails to honor a citizen’s request to inspect public documents.
“It keeps the shall but also puts parameters in place for the court to determine what the purpose of the requestor is,” Steube explained about the deal he struck.
Local governments complained that a cottage industry, founded on abuse of a law that mandates government pays when it loses record cases, is wasting taxpayers’ money. Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation endorsed the compromise.
“We are pleased. It frees us from an issue that has plagued us for years,” said Petersen. “But it’s a compromise; they are still changing the fee structure.”
“These days to have any victories is a good thing,” said Petersen when asked about the legal notices and attorney fees bills. “But the week has been a mixed bag in the sense the presidential exemption is moving and there are some bad things up Thursday.”
This is the 13th National Sunshine Week. The first one was organized by the American Society of News Editors as an effort to inform the public about their right to government information. [READ MORE]