Tampa Bay Times by Editorial Board
January 25, 2019
In Tampa, two people were found dead in a car near Busch Gardens and the police refused to tell the public anything about them. In Tallahassee, someone was run over and killed on a main road in a middle-class neighborhood and the police refused to tell the public anything about that person. This is a dangerous, unprecedented assault on open government in Florida, and it is the result of an expansive interpretation of a sentence buried in a constitutional amendment that never should have been on the ballot.
Voters in November approved Amendment 6, which was placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission that thankfully meets only once every 20 years. The so-called Marsy’s Law was jammed with unrelated provisions, including raising the mandatory retirement age for judges and unnecessary additional protections for crime victims. A sentence in the body of the amendment that was not reflected in the ballot title or the ballot summary says every victim of a crime has “the right to prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim.’’
Those 35 words that were not on the ballot are being used by the Tampa Police Department and some other law enforcement agencies to stop releasing information that previously has been public record about the victims of any crime. That includes the crime victim’s name, date of birth and address. Now the constitutional right to public records and the new constitutional rights of crime victims are in direct conflict, and the threat to government-in-the-sunshine is very real.
Imagine some of the practical consequences of this poorly worded amendment to the Florida Constitution and the absolutist interpretation of the Tampa Police Department:
— A rash of home burglaries or auto thefts hits your neighborhood. But neighbors don’t know they are at risk, because the names and addresses of homeowners who have been targeted are kept secret and no longer public record.