Honestly, chances are you’ve never stood up on a street corner soapbox to blast your government or produced a pamphlet like Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.” That doesn’t mean you value any less the rights of free speech and a free press.
Likewise, you may never have made a public-records request.
Regardless, you should be concerned by any attempt to erode your right to know how your government operates.
As this legislative session moves along, several bills would do exactly that, including some that were taken up or scheduled to be taken up in committees or on the floor this week. Here’s what some of our representatives have decided you don’t need to know:
» House Bill 421/Senate Bill 538: This creates an exemption from public records requirements for email addresses that tax collectors use to send tax notices to property owners. An email address is simply a modern mailing address, and convenience or not wanting to be bothered are poor reasons for providing an exemption from public record.
» SB 1269: This exempts from public record a range of actions — records, reports, applications — handled by the Office of Financial Regulation relating to family trusts.
» SB 866: This continues an exemption for not only patient identifying information in prescription drug monitoring program records but also information identifying physicians and pharmacists.
» SB 808: This creates an exemption for information in reports required to be submitted to the Florida State Boxing Commission by a promoter or through the audit of a promoter’s records.
A particularly troublesome one is SB 448/HB 89, the so called “Warning Shot Bill.” A healthy debate will continue over this bill and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. But that debate will surely be hobbled by amendments to this bill that would expunge from public records any case dismissed on these grounds. In other words, there would be no way to track where or why the law was being used or whether it was being applied fairly. Sen. Christopher Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, filed an amendment Wednesday striking the expunction language.
In all of these, there are privacy and fairness arguments to be made. But Florida has been a leader in open government, and with good reason. The people — all people — have a right to know what government is doing on their behalf. Legislators should think long and hard before stealing any of that right.