Stevenson argues to keep open meetings open – and wins

In an April 26th Historic City News article titled, “House members grease way for public meetings to become secret,” we reported that the House Government Accountability Committee had unanimously approved a Bill that would allow private one-on-one meetings of local elected officials, even when they serve on the same decision-making boards.

CS/HB 843 came before the full House of Representatives today, on third reading. Had the measure passed, it would have gone to the Senate for consideration.

“This is one of those days when I am very proud of our Representative in Tallahassee. We offered our endorsement of Stevenson for St Johns County Commissioner in District 1 during each of her three campaigns — we usually won’t do that. Her actions today highlight how she earned that kind of support from us,” Historic City News editor Michael Gold wrote in a cover letter reporting the vote. “She stood up to partisan politics and did what was best for the citizens that she was sent to represent.”

In addition to Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (R-St. Augustine), who was the only Republican who debated against the Bill today, was Rep. Ben Diamond (D-St. Petersburg), Rep. Joe Geller (D-Dania Beach), and Rep. Kristin Jacobs (D-Coconut Creek).

“Stevenson stood up for openness, transparency, and the rights of the governed to oversee the operation of their government,” Gold added.

Under a 2002 amendment to the Florida Constitution, a 2/3 vote of each chamber (House and Senate) is required to pass any proposed exemption to our open government laws. That means this Bill would have needed 80 votes to pass. It failed on a vote of 68/48.

“This is a big win and the first time since 2002 that an exemption bill failed the 2/3 vote requirement,” Barbara Petersen wrote in an e-mail from the Florida First Amendment Foundation.

In his closing remarks today, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Naples) asked House members whether they preferred “maximum efficiency” over “maximum transparency,” and to their credit, enough of them said “maximum transparency” and killed the Bill.

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