In this space we often chide legislators when efforts are made to limit the public’s access to government records.
Such access is intended for every citizen, but in all honesty, the media tend to take such restrictions personally.
Thus it was with joy that, in late March, we saw the state Senate vote unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 1648, which makes major and positive changes to Florida’s public records law.
Now, though, there seems to be a problem in the House, where its version (HB 1151) has bogged down. This is no time to lose a rare chance to improve the public’s right to know.
SB 1648 addresses a wide range of issues, including opening some records of organizations to which public agencies pay dues, making it easier to request public records, limiting the fees that agencies can charge for public records and requiring special training of all employees who deal with public records requests.
Along the way, some concern was expressed by business organizations, but that sticking point was removed in a committee substitute. Then the Florida League of Cities had a long list of problems, but Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said in an email alert that all of those had been addressed in proposed amendments to the House bill.
Improving government accountability was part of the five-point agenda of the pre-session “Work Plan 2014” of Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, and this bill in particular was a priority of Sen. Gaetz.
Ms. Petersen says this bill contains “some of the most significant legislative reforms in nearly 20 years.” That’s not an opportunity to be missed.
The Senate has spoken clearly in favor of the public’s right to know. Now the House needs to sort out whatever problems it’s having and get this bill passed.