Some legislators attempt to hide public records

400-JOHN-THRASHER-TRAVIS-HUHistoric City News will be following close to a dozen bills already filed by Florida lawmakers that would create or expand open records exemptions; keeping certain publicly available information secret.

Committee meetings begin the week of January 5th and the annual 60-day legislative session kicks off March 3rd. A “sunset” provision allows for exemptions to expire after five years — unless renewed.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” editor Michael Gold wrote in a letter to St Johns County’s legislative delegation. “Florida enjoys the reputation of having the best open government laws in the United States.”

Without an open process, we would not have known during the 2014 election cycle that the only real candidate for president of Florida State University had not even bothered to apply.

Using the state’s public records law, The Associated Press was able to get emails showing how a consultant warned the head of the search committee that the university was trying to “concoct a competitive process.”

Other emails showed that former state Senator John E. Thrasher, who eventually became the school’s president, had contacted top FSU officials about his interest in the position, and offered his own advice about the search.

Despite the expensive special election process that we are about to undergo, State Senator Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has introduced a bill for the upcoming session (SB 182) that would make confidential any information about candidates for “president, dean or provost of a state university or college”. A similar bill sponsored last session by State Representative Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, was unsuccessful.

The number of exemptions to the state’s Sunshine Laws has risen from 250 in 1985 to over 1,000 today, according to Barbara Petersen, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog group. Petersen said lawmakers are quick to file loopholes but slow to pass legislation that would strengthen the law.