Senate Bill improves watchdog’s access to public records


Barbara Petersen, President of the First Amendment Foundation, describes reforms to Florida’s broad public records laws which passed through a Florida senate panel yesterday, as “fabulous”. A companion bill, HB 1151, by Rep. Dave Hood, R-Daytona Beach, is pending in the House.

If enacted, in order to give Floridians faster access to official documents, the new law will eliminate the need for public records requests to be in writing — unless there is a specific law requiring records of those requests.

“There are a lot of very good reforms that we’re excited about,” Petersen told local Historic City News reporters. “We like to see the relaxing of open records and open public meetings laws.”

For example, one provision of SPB-7064 limits fees for large, complex record searches and document copying to the hourly salary of the lowest-paid employee qualified to fill a records request. Currently, Petersen said, some agencies and local governments tack on costs of employee benefits.

“It’s a clean-up bill,” said Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, who chairs the Governmental Oversight and Accountability committee that passed the bill. “We’re codifying case law, by providing certain definitions. Among changes brought about by the plan would be definitions of “confidential” and “exempt” information, which are now found in case law but not statute.”

Further, the new proposal will forbid public agencies from paying dues to any foundation or association unless the organization’s records are open for public inspection and copying — including financial and membership records relating to the government agency paying dues.