Florida has a long history of open government, a tradition dating to the 1909 passage of the “Public Records Law.” Open government laws, now called Government in the Sunshine laws, provide everyone with access to the inner workings of our state and local governments.
I had not thought much of this philosophy until I worked for then-State Representative John Carassas. During his first session, he realized a number of bills carving exemptions to the Sunshine laws were passing without much debate or votes against them. Some of these make sense, others may not. Many times these exemptions to public records also include exemptions to public meetings wherein exempt records are discussed.
As a result, he asked me to drafted – and he subsequently sponsored – a Constitutional amendment to change Florida’s public records laws. Any bill creating a new or extending an existing exemption to the public records law would require a two-thirds vote of each house. In 2002, the voters passed the amendment.
In addition, section 119.15, Florida Statues, provides for the “sunsetting” (automatic repeal) of these exemptions five years after being enacted or amended. These Open Government Sunset Review bills (OGSR) are usually committee bills and pass without controversy because the exemptions already exist and in some cases have been reviewed by the court system.
In 2007, there were eight OGSR bills that passed the Legislature:
SB 816 clarifies the exemption for active criminal investigations pertaining to requests made by a law enforcement agency from another law enforcement agency. Passed 40-0 and 116-0.
SB 886 makes some structural changes to the exemption for the building plans and other drawings for publicly owned facilities. Passed 40-0 and 117-0.
SB 1848 to prevent fraudulent claims, the bill includes ‘property identifiers’ in the exemption for unclaimed property being held by the Department of Financial Services. Passed 40-0 and 117-0.
SB 1852 clarifies the exemption for personal financial and health information held by the department or office relating to a consumer’s complaint or inquiry regarding a matter or activity regulated under the Florida Insurance Code. Passed 40-0 and 114-0.
SB 1950 simply removes the repeal of the exemption for the identification of parent leaving newborn infant at hospital, emergency medical services station, or fire station. Passed 38-0 and 117-0.
HB 7127 clarifies the exemption for personal identifying information of participant in Public Employee Optional Retirement Program contained in Florida Retirement System records held by State Board of Administration or the Department of Management Services. Passed 117-0 and 38-0.
HB 7187 makes changes to the exemption for specified examination and investigation reports under Florida Insurance Code as well as related work papers, information, and lists of insurers or regulated companies. Passed 117-0 and 40-0.
HB 7197 the exemption for social security numbers and bank account, debit, charge, and credit card numbers contained in public records. Passed 115-0 and 40-0.
There are also ten new public records exemptions bills that passed this year.
HB 63 creates an exemption for certain records and time sheets submitted to agency, as defined in ch. 119, F.S., by employee who is victim of domestic violence. Passed 116-0 and 39-0.
HB 131 provides an exemption for certain information held by Florida Opportunity Fund, Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, & Florida Technology, Research, and Scholarship Board. (These are entities designed to help bring new ideas to market — if a competitor could steal research through a public records request, it would significantly deter research and development in Florida.) Passed 117-0 and 39-0.
HB 463 establishes an exemption for records relating to drug tests and to challenge and appeal proceedings under the Florida High School Athletic Association’s random drug testing program. Passed 119-0 and 38-0.
HB 853 provides an exemption for record containing the identity of donors and prospective donors to the Univesity of Florida in support of its responsibilities for state-owned properties in the historic district in the City of St. Augustine. Passed 116-0 and 38-0.
SB 1034 exempts personal identifying information contained in workforce surveys completed by physicians as condition of license renewal and provided to the Department of Health. Passed 39-0 and 115-0.
HB 1405 authorizes an exemption for information that identifies donor or prospective donor to publicly owned house museum designated by United States Department of Interior as National Historic Landmark who desires to remain anonymous. Passed 113-0 and 39-0.
HB 7159 creates an exemption for personal identifying information of participant in telecommunications carrier’s Lifeline Assistance Plan held by the Public Service Commission. Passed 116-0 and 40-0.
HB 7169 provides an exemption for for certain records of Florida Workers’ Compensation Joint Underwriting Association. Passed 119-0 and 39-0.
HB 7193 establishes an exemption for specified U.S. Census Bureau address information held by a government agency. Passed 115-0 and 40-0.
HB 7201 exempts information related to business activities & trade secrets held by economic development agency. Passed 113-1 and 40-0.
It is interesting that only one vote was cast against all eighteen public records bills combined, by Rep. Susan Bucher (D-West Palm Beach). Part of this reason is because the Legislature has taken a more strict look at public record exemptions than in the past, and part of the reason is because of the nature of these exemptions.
Still, this is an important issue. So much so that Governor Charlie Crist established the Office of Open Government to assist government agencies with fulfilling their duty to provide prompt access to public records and public meetings.
Schedule of Review Posts:
Mon May 21: Public Records/Public Meetings
Thu May 24: Education
Tue May 29: Environment, Growth Management, & Natural Resources
Mon Jun 4: Legal System & Public Safety
Mon Jun 18: Veterans/Military Affairs
Tue Jun 19: Elections
Wed Jun 20: Transportation & Economic Development
Fri Jun 22: Health Care
Mon Jun 25: Insurance (excluding property)
Wed Jun 27: Human & Social Services
Fri Jun 29: Gambling & General Government
Mon Jul 2: Property Insurance & Property Taxes (including the special session legislation)
Tue Jul 3: Miscellaneous Bills not included in previous reviews