Tampa Bay Times by Tony Marrero
March 10, 2019
TAMPA — When a new amendment to the Florida Constitution to bolster the rights of crime victims took effect two months ago, the public records policies of law enforcement agencies across the state were thrown into disarray and open government advocates cried foul.
Amendment 6 put new restrictions on the disclosure of information that could be used to identify victims. But the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association have said the amendment is vague, confusing and in conflict with existing public records laws.
The result: Law enforcement agencies have settled on different interpretations of the amendment, leading to inconsistent policies throughout Florida. Meantime, open government advocates say the amendment is reducing transparency because agencies are automatically walling off information the public has a right to know.
“If the Legislature doesn’t step up and clarify this and give us some sense of how this is to interpreted, I think there will be a lawsuit, and I would prefer to avoid litigation,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation.
Now, one of the amendment’s staunchest supporters has filed a bill to spell out how Amendment 6 should be put into action. But SB 1426, filed by state Sen. Lauren Book, skips over two of the main questions that have arisen over the amendment.
Passed in November by 62 percent of Florida voters, Amendment 6 was modeled after a similar measure in California known as Marsy’s Law. The 11 rights outlined in the amendment include consideration of a victim’s safety when authorities set bail for the accused and informing a victim of developments in the prosecution.
At issue is language in the amendment to protect the victim’s 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.”