Public records bill on attorney’s fees moves forward

It was a sad week in Tallahassee for the freedom of everyday citizens. The Senate Government Oversight and Accountability committee passed SB-1220 which would give the discretion to award attorney’s fees in actions brought by citizens to enforce the state’s public records laws to judges, rather than the statutory requirement that currently exists.

Current law requires judges to award attorney fees for violating the law, even when the violation is inadvertent. In an effort to curb these abuses, this legislation would change the word “shall” to “may” leaving the award of costs up to the discretion of the judge based on the particular facts of the case.

The companion bill in the House (HB 1021) has two more committees. Representative Cyndi Stevenson forwarded her weekly report to Historic City News indicating that, unfortunately, governmental entities around the state have been targeted by some individuals and groups seeking to exploit the public records law to try to induce technical violations of the law for personal gain.

Also this week, State Senator for District 6, Travis Hutson, announced two additional public records exemptions that he has supported.

“I am excited to announce the favorable vote of the Rules Committee for SB 578, Public Records/Florida State Boxing Commission. The passing of this bill will amend the current public records exemption concerning proprietary confidential business information maintained by the Florida State Boxing Commission,” Hutson reported. “This bill will ensure that the confidentiality of pre-recorded bouts, such as those on UFC’s Ultimate Fighter show, will be protected so as not to spoil the results for the viewer and maintain filming of the program in Florida.”

The First Amendment Foundation of Florida, of which Historic City News is an Online Publication Member, is already tracking 74 bills that will either create new open government exemptions or extend current exemptions during the 2016 legislative session. Florida already has 1,106 exemptions to our open government laws. Every exemption makes government less transparent.

“As with SB 578, another of my bills SB 592, Public Records/Department of Financial Services, earned a favorable vote from the Rules Committee. The passing of this bill will exempt from public inspection and disclosure the home addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, and photographs of current and former non-sworn investigative personal of the Department of Financial Services,” Hutson continued. “It also exempts the names, home addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, places of employment, and locations of schools and daycare facilities of the spouses and children of such personnel.”

In a comment explaining his actions, Hutson said, “I do not take the exemption of Florida’s excellent public records law lightly, but in both cases with SB 578 and 592, the public is not harmed by the exemption while business is maintained in the state and hardworking Floridian’s are made more safe by these exemptions.”

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