Florida public records bill flies through Senate committee

Mar 21, 2014

Florida lawmakers must be thrilled to see their new public record bill passed so easily by the Senate committee. Last Thursday, March 13th, the bill, which aims to strengthen the state’s public record laws, was introduced into the committee and passed without a hitch.

What This Means for Florida

This bill works to greatly reduce fees to access public records and to hold searches, and it would make it possible to be able to access some of the public records that have been tagged as confidential with proper court mandates.

The new public records bill also requires all public agencies to ensure their employees are trained in how to run public record searches, since this seems to be the biggest issue in the state when it comes to these records.

Reactions to New Bill

It’s been a hard road for advocates for open-government laws, and this new public record bill in Florida is paving the way for better times ahead. Not since the early ’90s has there been an important public record bill like this one passed in Florida, so this step will hopefully set the stage for more of them.

Officials and Senate committee members are thrilled with this new development, since it allows for more people to have access to public records. There are numerous other public record laws being written and worked on, and the passing of this one sets a good precedent for future bills.

But Is It All Good News?

Unfortunately, among the new public record laws that are being considered after this recent success, there is one in particular that could have a major negative impact on Florida’s Sunshine Law. This bill that is being cooked up would exempt information about public officials’ drug records, identifying information in car accident reports, any identifying information about applicants to positions as deans or presidents of universities and a number of other questionable exemptions.

For Florida, this would mean going backwards when it comes to disclosure instead of riding the momentum created by this new bill forward. Not having access to public records makes it very difficult to vet candidates for positions and for the public to know more about them before any of them are hired for the job.

Because of this, many of the Senate committee members are whole-heartedly opposed to the bill that is being considered, but we don’t know yet if that will be enough to keep it from passing.

Changes in Laws

This recently passed bill could be a herald for a new age when it comes to public knowledge and open government. It could also help pass bills that could make record laws even more complicated and restrict access to public officials’ records. Florida could go either way, right now, since there are many people who are disgruntled by the recently passed bill. As more public record laws are created, we will see which way the state will head.