TALLAHASSEE — First Amendment advocates are asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto three Senate bills his office received on Thursday, arguing that each measure represents another diminishment of Florida’s long tradition of open government and open records.
The First Amendment Foundation, an advocacy group for open government funded by newspapers and other groups and individuals, is asking Scott to veto four bills, including a House bill he has yet to receive.
The FAF wants Scott to reject a bill (SB 248) on his desk that would block the public from seeing certain portions of recordings of body cameras that are now being used more frequently by law enforcement agencies, including city police departments. The exemption would apply to recordings in residences, health facilities or other areas where there was “a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Barbara Petersen, president of the FAF, said the exemptions run contrary to the purpose of the cameras, which are meant to provide more oversight and accountability for the actions of the law enforcement officers.
In a letter to Scott, Petersen quotes Daytona Beach police officers who said the cameras will “protect everyone” — the city from baseless lawsuits, officers from false accusations of misconduct and the public from police misconduct.
Petersen said Florida already has “a long history” of law enforcement cameras, including dash cameras, without secrecy provisions and there have been no reported abuses. “In short this bill attempts to fix a problem that simply doesn’t exist,” she said.
She said while the bill allows the secret portions of the recordings to be released under a court order, it could prove to be a costly burden and that the bill has a lengthy list of criteria that must be met prior to the release.
Petersen said a better course of action would be a law requiring law enforcement agencies “to adopt policies about the use of body cameras by their officers rather than create an overbroad and unnecessary public record exemption.”
The other two bills (SB 7040 and SB 200) on Scott’s desk would create a veil of secrecy over email addresses held by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and county tax collectors.
Petersen said the email exemptions are unnecessary and unwarranted and set “a dangerous precedent” for closing records.
“We do not dispute that email addresses can be used for nefarious and illegal purposes,” Petersen said.
But she said the email addresses are available from a number of sources and that a better approach would be providing more consumer education about potential scams and cracking down on the criminals who use the emails for illegal purposes.
Petersen said since emails are such a common form of communication making them secret and requiring public agencies, like the DHSMV or county tax collectors, to redact the information as part of a records request “will create an unwarranted barrier to the public’s ability to obtain public record emails in a timely and cost effective manner and will hamper our ability to oversee government and hold it accountable.”
The FAF is also asking Scott to veto a fourth bill (HB 185) that he has yet to receive that would exempt addresses, phone numbers and photos of current or former military members who served after Sept. 11, 2001 that are held by public agencies.
Petersen said the exemption is overly broad and unnecessary and will present major administrative barriers and costs when the public requests records and the agencies have to redact the exempted information from the records.
Scott has 15 days to act on the bills that he has received.
Overall state lawmakers passed 13 bills creating new open government exemptions in the 2015 session and re-enacted seven exemptions.
The FAF reported this year was an improvement over last year, which the advocates considered one of the worst years for open government, when lawmakers passed 22 new exemptions and re-enacted nine others.
WINNER OF THE WEEK: State agency heads. Gov. Rick Scott reappointed 16 state agency heads that oversee everything from Medicaid to prisons to elections to the environment after the Scott appointees failed to win a confirmation vote from the Senate in the recently concluded session. With their reappointments, the agency heads will face another confirmation vote next year.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Florida prisons. Two former guards were arrested for the beating of an inmate that left him with a broken nose and facial fractures at Columbia Correction Institution in February. It’s another in a series of incidents and arrests in the troubled prison system and comes after state lawmakers failed to pass a prison reform package aimed at providing more oversight to the 100,000-inmate system.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’m not going to support it. It’s not a program that has worked,” Gov. Rick Scott said, reiterating his opposition to expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Original article here.