WLRN by Valerie Crowder (WFSU)
March 1, 2021
Scores of bills related to government transparency have been filed in the state legislature. At least a few have are progressing through committees ahead of regular session.
Pamela Marsh is the executive director of the Florida First Amendment Foundation. Marsh says the Foundation is monitoring more than 90 bills related to open government and First Amendment protections. Many are duplicate bills in both chambers. Some would increase government transparency, including a proposal that would bar local governments from taking people to court for submitting public records requests.
“The government is a big beast. It’s like if the government comes after you, that’s an elephant. And you need to have an elephant gun to go up against the government. That’s a difficult place to be in for most citizens. We support this bill. We don’t believe an agency should be allowed to take you to court simply because you request records.”
SB 400 passed the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee with a unanimous vote. The House version hasn’t yet received a committee reading. Marsh says other proposals would have more of a chilling effect on the press. At least a few bills would add to 11-hundred and 59 public records exemptions already on the books.
“To pass more exemptions is just to put more of a burden on everyone and for more information to be withheld from the public eye about what their governments are really up to.”
Proposals to shield mug shots and the home addresses of state lawmakers and cabinet members have been filed. Marsh says legislation to exempt personal identifying information of college and university president applicants from public records is moving quickly. The senate version of that bill has already passed two committees and is on its way to a third.
“This bill doesn’t contain a number of finalists that would be required to be disclosed. So frankly, the section committee and the hired search firms could come up with only one candidate only at the end with twenty-one days for the public to vet and that’s it. It’s like the community would not have a meaningful say in the decision making.”