Title: Brechner report
ALL VOLUMES CITATION PDF VIEWER THUMBNAILS PAGE IMAGE ZOOMABLE
Full Citation
STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00090012/00025
 Material Information
Title: Brechner report
Series Title: Brechner report
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, College of Journalism and communications, University of Florida
Publisher: Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: January 2002
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00090012
Volume ID: VID00025
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Downloads

This item has the following downloads:

00001jan2002 ( PDF )


Full Text


THE



BRECHNER


REPORT


Volume 26, Number 1 U A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom oflr I, n..i.. ., College ofJournalism and Communications U University of Florida
January 2002

Four new Sunshine exemptions are signed into law


TALLAHASSEE Gov. Jeb Bush response plans. Under the Open
signed into law four Sunshine Law Government Sunset Review Act, the two
exemptions passed by the Florida bills would be repealed on Oct. 2, 2006
Legislature during its Special unless the Legislature re-
Session "C." A C C E SS enacts them.
One bill exempts A third bill keeps police
security system plans from requests for public records
the Public Records Law and RECORDS secret as long as the request


closes state agency and
local government meetings where
security system plans are discussed,
while another creates both a public
records and an open meetings
exemption for hospital emergency
Bush authorizes
military tribunals
WASHINGTON President Bush
authorized the formation of military
tribunals to prosecute non-Americans
accused of terrorism, meaning
defendants would be detained, tried and
sentenced in secret.
The order allows the president to
determine who is prosecuted under the
tribunal system, which has a lower
standard of proof than the normal
criminal court system and no right of
appeal, even in death penalty cases. The
secret trials could also be held outside
the United States. The Bush order has
drawn fire from some congressional
leaders and from civil liberty groups.
Spanish officials said they would refuse
to extradite suspected terrorists if the
defendants faced military tribunals.
(11/15/01 11/29/01)


SPECIAL REPORT

'. p [. n. ,t ,.n *. '_', ,-, t.- r r
I'l ..i ].I.' .I irui' JuI n rI K 2 i 2'
--I I' 4-


is part of an active criminal
or intelligence-gathering investigation.
When the case is no longer active, the
information may be made public. The
sunset date for this exemption is Oct. 2,
2007. A fourth bill exempts from public


TALLAHASSEE- Anadvisory
council to the Florida Supreme Court
recommended a moratorium on
providing complete access to court
documents on the Internet.
The Judicial Management Council
approved recommendations by the
Supreme Court Workgroup on Public
Records in November. The council
wants the Florida Supreme Court to
establish statewide rules for posting
court information on the Internet.
Florida law requires court clerks to post
electronic images of court records
online by Jan. 1, 2006.
The council, however, is concerned
about privacy issues and sensitive
information that could be part of online
court records, such as social security


release information about the amount
and type of state's pharmaceutical
stockpiles. However, an annual
certification by the governor that
sufficient stockpiles exist will remain
public. The sunset date for this bill is
Oct. 2, 2006.
A bill that would have allowed law
enforcement officials to ask a judge to
delay the release of public records for
up to 21 days passed the Florida
Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, but
died on the calendar.
(12/4/01 12/6/01)


numbers, financial documents and
psychiatric histories. Currently, that sort
of sensitive information is available in
written records at the courthouse.
Because of the difficulty involved in
going to individual courthouses and
digging up the written records, however,
those records are considered to be in
"practical obscurity."
The council also recommended that
requests for judicial branch records be
made in writing. The requester would not
have to disclose their reasons for
seeking the records.
The Supreme Court is expected to
seek out public comment on the
recommendations and is not expected to
act on the proposals until next year.
(11/9/01 11/21/01)


Committee OKs bill to allow cameras in court


WASHINGTON- The U.S. Senate's
Judiciary Committee has approved a bill
that would give judges the discretion to
allow news cameras in federal
courtrooms.
Currently, cameras are prohibited in
all federal district courts. Only two
appellate courts allow video cameras.
The bill passed the committee by a
12-7 margin and, now, must be


considered by the full Senate.
"Letting the sun shine in is the best
way to maintain confidence in the federal
judiciary, which holds tremendous power
over our lives," said Sen. Chuck
Grassley, R-Iowa. Opponents say that
cameras in the courtroom may tempt
lawyers and witnesses to play to the
media rather than focus on the legal
proceedings. (11/30/01)


Council urges delay in online records







ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED


Interest groups sue to gain access to Reagan's papers


WASHINGTON Historians and Presidential Records Act of 1978 made


public interest groups have filed a
federal lawsuit against the National
Archives and Records Administration
and U.S. Archivist John W. Carlin to
challenge an order limiting access to
former President Reagan's papers.
President Bush signed an executive
order in November that blocked the
release of more than 68,000 documents
from the Reagan administration. The


all presidential records, beginning with
Reagan's, the property of the government
rather than the president. The act requires
public release of the records after 12
years. (Brechner Report, December
2001)
Reagan signed an executive order
before he left office that requires the
National Archive to inform the sitting
president when a set of records is about


Paper appeals Earnhardt photo ruling


DAYTONA BEACH The attorney
for the Independent Florida Alligator
filed an appeal with Florida's 5th
District Court of Appeal as part of the
student-run newspaper's attempt to
access race car driver Dale Earnhardt's
autopsy photos.
Attorney Tom Julin argued in court
documents that a new law restricting
access to autopsy photos was
unconstitutional. Julin also argued that
the law, passed in the wake of
Earnhardt's death, should not apply to
the Alligator since the newspaper
requested access to the photographs
before the law was passed.


Judge Joseph G. Will, 7th Judicial
Circuit, ruled against the newspaper's
attempts to access the photos in June,
saying that the Eamhardts' privacy was
paramount. (Brechner Report, July
2001)
The 50-page appeal filing argues, in
part, that no other legal ruling has ever
found that inspecting or copying autopsy
records is an invasion of privacy. It also
argues that inspecting autopsy photos
can serve an important public purpose.
Five journalism organizations joined
together to file a friend of court brief,
asking the appeals court to strike down
the law. (10/17/01 11/20/01)


Appeals panel affirms release of airport records


MIAMI A state appeals panel
upheld a ruling that requires a private
consulting company to comply with the
state's Public Records Law and release
records of how much the company pays
in lobbyist fees.
In May, Judge Alan L. Postman, 1 th
Judicial Circuit, ordered Dade Aviation
Consultants, which advises Miami-Dade
County on Miami International Airport
expansion issues, to release lobbyist
payments and other financial records

DECISIONS

ON FILE
Copies of case opinions, Florida
Attorney General opinions, or
!." ,'hil,. ', reported in any issue as
"on file" may be obtained upon
request from the Brechner Center for
Freedom of Information, College of
Journalism and Communications,
3208 Weimer Hall, P.O. Box 118400,
University of Florida, Gainesville,
FL 32611-8400, (352) 392-2273.


requested by The Miami Herald.
(Brechner Report, July 2001)
A three-judge panel of the 3rd
District Court of Appeal affirmed
Postman's ruling.
"When a private entity undertakes to
provide a service otherwise provided by
the government, the entity is bound by
the [state's Public Records Law], as the
government would be," according to the
appellate court decision.
(10/16/01 11/1/01)
Judge orders 20 pages
TAMPA A judge ordered the
release of approximately 600 pages of
records in the case against a man
accused of murdering five people, but
ordered approximately 20 pages sealed.
Dexter Levingston has been charged
with the murder of five people but has
been ruled incompetent to stand trial. He
remains in a state mental hospital.
Attorneys for the St. Petersburg
Times and The Tampa Tribune argued
that the sealed pages in the case should
be released because much of the
information was already available in


to be released. Reagan's papers were
scheduled for release on Jan. 1, 2001,
but the release was delayed three times
by Bush. The Bush executive order gives
both the sitting president and the former
president the right to withhold records.
The lawsuit asks the U.S. District
Court for the District of Columbia to
invalidate Bush's executive order and
order the release of the records.
(11/28/01 11/29/01)
Newspaper, sheriff
settle records lawsuit
BUNNELL The Flagler County
Sheriff's Office and The News-Journal
of Daytona Beach have settled their
public records lawsuit with Sheriff Jim
Manfre, paying the newspaper $10,000.
The News-Journal sued after the
sheriff's department refused to release
requested jail transportation logs. The
department refused to release the
complete record because it revealed that
an inmate had been taken to a mental
health facility, but later released the full
logs after the inmate's attorney revealed
the inmate's medical condition. The
department argued that releasing the
records initially would have violated the
confidentiality of the inmate's medical
records. (Brechner Report, August
2001) Manfre and the newspaper agreed
as part of the settlement that the sheriff
was correct to determine whether the
jail transportation logs were exempt but
was wrong to delay access "without
citing statutory authority." Manfre will
pay the newspaper $10,000 in lieu of
attorney's fees. The newspaper will use
the money to support a Sunshine Law
seminar, said Jon Kaney, the paper's
attorney. (10/17/01)
sealed in murder case
other forms.
Judge Chet Tharpe, 13th Judicial
Circuit, ruled in May that Levingston's
attorneys could review evidence in the
case before it was released to the public.
The public defenders reviewed the
material and objected to several
portions.
Tharpe examined the challenged
pages behind closed doors then ruled
approximately 20 pages would be sealed
to protect Levingston's right to a fair
trial and ordered approximately 600
other pages released. (10/11/01)


2 The Brechner Report January 2002







ACCESS MEETINGS


Defendant claims board violated law


PALM BEACH COUNTY State
prosecutors are investigating allegations
that Palm Beach County's Housing
Finance Authority violated the Open
Meetings Law after a defendant in a
corruption trial testified she had
witnessed violations.
Lisa Fisher, a consultant at the
authority, testified during a federal
corruption trial that members of the
authority regularly discussed public
business in private. She said Lloyd
Hasner, former chairman of the
authority, and authority member Jeff


Winikoff discussed a $30,000 contract
with her at a private party.
Fisher, Hasner and former county
attorney Richard Ellington were
convicted in mid-November on charges
stemming from contracts the authority
approved in 1997.
Investigators have begun collecting
material related to reported Sunshine
violations. However, the U.S. Attorney's
Office has refused to turn over wiretap
evidence related to the case, saying it
was using the wiretaps to pursue other
cases. (11/2/01 11/18/01)


HOUSTON Writer Vanessa
Leggett, who has spent more than 145
days in jail, will ask the U.S. Supreme
Court to release her.
Leggett, a crime writer and a lecturer
at the University of Houston, was found
in contempt for refusing to answer a
grand jury subpoena and turn over
material she had collected as part of the
background for a book. (Brechner
Report, September 2001) She has been
held without bond since July 20. A
three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals upheld her jailing this
summer, saying there is no reporter's

ACLU to file lawsuit on
KEY WEST The American Civil
Liberties Union is filing a lawsuit
against Key West over the June arrest of
a newspaper publisher.
Dennis Reeves Cooper, publisher of
Key West the Newspaper, was arrested
for allegedly violating a "gag law" that
prevents anyone from revealing
information about an ongoing police
investigation. Cooper published a series
of articles about a Florida Department


privilege to protect her from a grand jury
subpoena. The entire appellate court
upheld the panel's decision, refused to
release her and rejected motions to
reconsider her case.
Her attorney, Mike DeGeurin, said he
now plans to appeal the case to the high
court. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-
Houston, has demanded that federal
prosecutors release Leggett.
However, unless Leggett wins an
appeal or hands over her material, she
will remain in jail until the grand jury
term expires on Jan. 7.
(10/29/01 11/23/01)
behalf of publisher
of Law Enforcement investigation of the
Key West police. (Brechner Report,
August 2001)
A federal judge declared the law
unconstitutional in 1990, but it remains
on the books. Monroe County
prosecutors dropped the charge against
Cooper two weeks after his arrest. The
ACLU is planning a suit against the city
for the "illegal arrest" and to prevent
future use of the statute. (10/13/01)


NEWS GATHERING

FAA investigates four news helicopter pilots
WASHINGTON Federal officials traffic-watch flights" remains in effect
are investigating four news helicopter for 30 U.S. cities, but in late November,
pilots for possible violations of the President George Bush signed a law that
Federal Aviation Administration's 30- lets TV and radio station helicopters fly
city ban on news helicopter flights, after obtaining a FAA waiver. The
Two pilots for Miami news stations measure gives the Department of
are among those being investigated. Transportation 30 days to object to any
The ban on"newsgathering and waiver request. (11/16/01 11/30/01)


ACCESS
RECORDS
CONTINUED

4,000 reports filed,

but all are secret
TALLAHASSEE More than 4,000
reports have been filed concerning
injuries and problems at nursing homes
in Florida, and approximately 100 of
those reports resulted in on-site
investigations. However, those reports
are kept secret because of a new state
law that passed in May.
Senate Bill 1200 created an
exemption for the meetings of nursing
home risk management and quality
assurance committees, incident reports
filed with the risk managers and
administrators, notifications of adverse
incidents and adverse incident reports.
(Brechner Report, July 2001).
The exemptions were created to
encourage nursing homes to report
incidents, though a spokesperson for
Florida's Agency for Health Care
Administration said more reports are
being generated than the state requires.
Critics of the exemptions say they
are frustrated with the lack of public
oversight on the investigation process.
"Not even the family can get the reports
to see what it's all about. Where's the
wisdom in that?" said Barbara
Hengstebeck, executive director of the
Coalition to Protect America's Elders.
(11/11/01 11/20/01)

-- IHE--
BRECHNER
REPORT





-,,.IIn~,., I l I ,I, lI I In \ .n
I. I I u ,I .. ,,,I ...... ...


IIt d ,, I 1- 11 11 1, 11 1 1- ll. j I I F I I I,,,,



I ill T. .. I I
I.,, 11. I, ,, ., 11, . .1 11. i,

-1-1111 I' II d l l h t1 1 I dll

... ... . 11i,,
Ih I I .. ,,~ r l I I ,, I h ,I .. .h ,, h


The Brechner Report January 2002 3


REPORTER'S PRIVILEGE


Jailed writer to appeal to Supreme Court







LEGISLATIVE PREVIEW

Legislature to debate more than 40 Sunshine bills


TALLAHASSEE The state
legislature will consider more than 40
bills dealing with Florida's Sunshine
Law during this year's session, which
begins on Jan. 22.
Below is the list of bills, as of Dec.
6, which were taken from the Florida
Legislature's home page, Online
Sunshine, at http://www.leg.state.fl.us.
Chief sponsors of the bills are in
parentheses next to the bill numbers.

SB 140 (Burt, R-Ormond Beach)
Criminal use of public records -
Would make it a first-degree
misdemeanor to knowingly use public
records or information from a public
record to commit a first-degree
misdemeanor and would make it a third-
degree felony to use public records to
commit a felony.

SB 252 (Health, Aging and Long-term
Care)
HB 279 (Committee on State
Administration)
Health Care Practitioners-HB 279
would repeal a specific exemption from
public records and meeting
requirements for certain information
about disciplinary proceedings and
treatment programs for impaired
practitioners when a practitioner is a
provisional licensee in clinical,
counseling or psychotherapy services.
However, SB 252 adds provisional
licensees to the definition of
"licensees" under the general provisions
for Health Professions and Occupations.

SB 274 (Governmental Oversight and
Productivity Committee)
HB 539 (Trovillion, R-Winter Park)
Public records Would expand the
definition of public records to include
financial, business and membership
records relating to public funds
expended by an agency in dues or
membership contributions. Defines
"actual cost of duplication" of public
records as including the costs of
materials and supplies, but not labor or
overhead costs. Would also require
agencies using electronic recordkeeping
systems to make data available in a
common format, such as ASCII.

SB 340 (Smith, D-Gainesville)
HB 241 (Kravitz, R-Orange Park)


Images of crime victims Would
create an exemption for photographs,
digital images and video recordings that
show the remains of victims at crime
scenes. Allows state or governmental
agency to release the images to other
agencies.

SB 368 (Wise, R-Jacksonville)
HB 131 (Lynn, R-Ormond Beach)
Confidentiality of library records -
Would create a public records
exemption for all registration and
circulation records of public libraries.

SB 378 (Wise, R-Jacksonville)
HB 445 (Hogan, R-Jacksonville)
Customer information from utilities
- Would create a public records
exemption for customer information
held by a water, wastewater, natural gas,
electric, cable television or
telecommunications utility owned by a
public entity. Exempt information
includes name, social security number,
address, telephone number, usage
records, payment history, bank account,
debit, charge or credit card numbers, and
driver identification number.

SB 392 (Wise, R-Jacksonville)
SB 404 (Campbell, D-Tamarac)
HB 95 (Trovillion, R- Winter Park)
Filtering on public libraries'
computers Would require public
libraries that provide computer online
service, Internet service or local bulletin
board service to install filtering
software on any computers accessible
by children under 18 years old.

SB 430 (Klein, D-Delray Beach)
HB 195 (Gannon, D-Delray Beach)
Insurers' records Would create a
public records exemption for records,
such as underwriting files, medical
records, non-managerial personnel and
payroll records and claims information,
of an insurer subject to delinquency
proceedings, received by the
Department of Insurance or by a
guaranty association.

SB 468 (Burt, R-Ormond Beach)
HB 543 (Detert, R-Venice)
Abandoned property Would create a
public records exemption for social
security numbers and financial account
numbers of apparent owners of


abandoned or unclaimed property in the
custody of the Department of Banking
and Finance.

SB 476 (Senate Committee on
Transportation)
HB 275 (House Committee on State
Administration)
Deepwater ports Would create a
public records exemption for any
proposal or counterproposal exchanged
between deepwater ports and non-
governmental entities relating to the
sale, use or lease of land or port
facilities, and financial records
submitted by any non-governmental
entity related to transactions. The
records would be open to public
inspection 30 days before consideration
by the deepwater port's governing body.

SB 486 (Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville;
Smith, D-Gainesville)
Security system plan Would create
a public records exemption for security
system plans for property owned or
leased by state or local government and
for security system plans for private
property that are in the possession of a
government agency. Also creates an
open meetings exemption for meetings
that would reveal a security system plan.
A similar bill was enacted by Legislature
during the Special Session C of 2001.

SB 488 (Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville;
Smith, D-Gainesville)
Emergency management plans -
Would create a public records
exemption for hospitals' terrorism
response plans and an open meetings
exemption for any meeting that
discusses an emergency management
plan. State certification of an emergency
management plan remains public record.
A similar bill was enacted by the
Legislature during the Special Session C
of 2001.

SB 498 (Smith, D-Gainesville)
Election disclosure Would require
anyone who, 60 days before an election,
sponsors a print or broadcast political
advertisement that shows or names a
candidate for office to disclose the
financial records of the source, amount
and recipient of the advertising funds.
The disclosure must be made at least 10
days before the election.


4 The Brechner Report January 2002







LEGISLATIVE PREVIEW CONTINUED


SB 490 (Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville;
Smith, D-Gainesville)
Pharmaceutical depository records -
Would create a public records
exemption for information about the
pharmaceutical stockpiles. A similar bill
was enacted by the Legislature during
the Special Session C of 2001.

SB 492 (Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville;
Smith, D-Gainesville)
Law enforcement agency records -
Would create an exemption for reports
of public records requests made by law
enforcement agencies during active
criminal or intelligence investigations.

SB 494 (Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville;
Smith, D-Gainesville)
Inspection and copying of public
records Would allow the Florida
Department of Law Enforcement to
delay the release of public records for
seven days if the records are related to
an active criminal or intelligence
investigation of terrorist acts. The
circuit court would have to approve the
seven-day delay. Would also allow the
department to request an additional 14-
day delay from a judge.

SB 638 (Burt, R-Ormond Beach)
Health care records Would create a
public records exemption for
information in a state controlled-
substance database that identifies a
patient.
Pharmacists, health care
practitioners, law enforcement agencies
and Department of Health employees
conducting an investigation are allowed
to access the information but are
required to keep it confidential. Makes
it a first-degree misdemeanor to reveal
patient information or use the
information from the database for
personal gain. Makes a second offense a
third-degree felony.

HB 107 (Ryan, D-Dania Beach)
Computer modeling in the
Department of Insurance Would create
a public records exemption for any
computer modeling data, calculations,
assumptions, and methodologies
developed for the purpose of reviewing
insurance rate filings.

HB 147 (Ball, R-Titusville)
Citizen's Right to Honest
Government Act A portion of this


larger bill would make it a second-
degree felony for a public servant to
falsify, conceal, cover up, destroy,
mutilate or alter a public record. It also
makes it a third-degree felony for a
public servant to disclose active
criminal investigative or intelligence
information, and a second-degree to
disclose information concerning a
competitive bidding process.

HB 327 (Carassas, R-Largo)
Requirements to pass exemptions -
Constitutional amendment would require
that laws providing for exemptions from
public records or public meetings
requirements must be passed by two-
thirds vote of each house of the
Legislature.

HB 431 (Sorensen, R-Tavernier)
Guardian ad litem Would provide
exemption from public records
requirements for identifying
information about staff and certified
volunteers of child guardian ad litem
programs.

The following exemptions to the state
Public Records/Open Meetings Laws
are subject to review and re-enactment
by the Legislature under the Open
Government Sunset Review Act.
Without re-enactment, these exemptions
would expire.

SB 220 (Saunders, R-Cape Coral)
Ethics Code violations Would
extend the sunset date on this existing
exemption from Oct. 2, 2002 to Oct. 2,
2007. Exemption covers ethics
violations information or referrals to the
state Commission on Ethics. Added
language allows the Commission on
Ethics to share investigative material
with law enforcement agencies.

SB 250 (Senate Committee on Health,
Aging and Long-Term Care)
HB 277 (Brummer, R-Apopka)
Health practitioner profiles Would
eliminate the sunset date on this existing
exemption. Law exempts from
disclosure any patient information
contained in a profile of a health
practitioner.

SB 254 (Senate Committee on Health,
Aging and Long-Term Care)
HB 283 (Brummer, R-Apopka)
Ombudsman committees Would


eliminate the sunset date on this existing
exemption. Law exempts from
disclosure any patient records or
identifying information held by district
managed care ombudsman committee.
Removes statewide managed care
ombudsman committees from the
exemption.

SB 352 (Sanderson, R-Fort Lauderdale)
HB 273 (Brummer, R-Apopka)
Ethics complaint records Would
eliminate the sunset date on this existing
exemption. Law exempts the records and
proceedings of the Commission on
Ethics or a county Commission on
Ethics and Public Trust. Allows the
records to be made public if a complaint
is dismissed, the accused violator makes
a written request, or the commission
determines probable cause exists for a
violation.

SB 394 (Criminal Justice Committee)
HB 285 (State Administration
Committee and Brummer, R-Apopka)
Victim and witness information -
Would eliminate the sunset date on this
existing exemption. Law exempts from
disclosure information held by law
enforcement agencies concerning the
identities of crime victims and
witnesses who have been certified for
protective and relocation services,
including information about immediate
family members.

SB 396 (Senate Committee on Criminal
Justice)
HB 287 (Brummer, R-Apopka)
Violent crime council Would
eliminate the sunset date on this existing
exemption. Law allows the Florida
Violent Crime and Drug Control
Council to close portions of its
meetings to discuss active criminal or
intelligence investigations and to keep
records secret until the investigations
are no longer active.

HB 281 (Committee on State
Administration)
Risk-based capital information -
Would eliminate the sunset provision on
an existing public records exemption for
risk-based capital information held by
the Department of Insurance and on
existing public meeting requirements
for hearings conducted by the
Department of Insurance involving risk-
based capital information.


The Brechner Report January 2002 5





























Florida's Sunshine Laws face legislative attack


While the U.S. Congress was busy passing the new
USA Patriot Act, which allows the government to
collect all kinds of information, keep more secrets and
suspend important parts of the Bill of Rights, the
Florida Legislature was working hard not to be outdone.
In the process, Florida's Sunshine Laws came close to
being the next casualty in the U.S. war on terrorism.
The No one
k disputes the need Sandra
B ac Pe for state and local
B P g governments to take extra
By Sandra Chance security measures to
protect the public health and safety. However, Florida's
legislature considered what could only be called draconian
measures that went far beyond any legitimate need to safeguard
the public interest. Not only were many of the proposals
contrary to Florida's tradition of openness, they were hastily
considered, rarely debated and passed with blinding speed.
Florida's Legislature was called into a special session to deal
with a projected budget deficient. Legislators, however, added a
number of new Sunshine Law exemptions to to an already full
agenda.
This came as a surprise as the state's Sunshine Laws already
contain many safeguards to prohibit disclosure of sensitive
police intelligence and security plans. Before the special
session began, law enforcement officials had the means to
withhold information that might compromise investigations or
endanger the public. Despite this, at least a dozen bills were
introduced during the special session, and the Senate changed
its rules to allow for secret meetings to discuss terrorism
prevention. However, the Senate president could seal the
records related to the closed meeting, and they would remain
sealed until a Senate president authorized their release.
This rule allows closed Senate sessions for the first time in
more than 30 years and flies in the face of Florida's
constitutional amendment guaranteeing open meetings and
records. Obviously, senators need to be reminded that our state
Open Meetings Law came as a direct result of the Senate's
closed meetings to discuss reapportionment in the 1960s.
Reapportionment will dominate the next legislative session.
Floridians will be watching closely. That is, if the Senate


doesn't change its rules again to make those meetings
secret, too.
Much to its credit, the House did not amend its
meeting rules. In addition, House Speaker Tom Feeney
encouraged representatives to resist making significant
changes to the open government laws in the rushed
special session. Fortunately, for the most part, reason
prevailed over political maneuvering and pandering to
Chance public fear. As a result, the House passed four new
exemptions to the Public Records Law. The Governor quickly
signed the bills into law. The new laws make secret the location
of drugs stockpiled to counter bioterrorists attacks, emergency
security plans for hospitals and state buildings, security system
plans and police requests for records from other agencies. For
the most part, the new laws clarify and expand existing
exemptions to explicitly cover security issues.
Given the current climate, it's understandable that legislators
would support any measure that might ensure security and
prevent further terrorists attacks. However, many of the
measures introduced and quickly passed were radical reactions
to an obviously difficult situation. One has to wonder whether
some of the state's legislators were hiding behind the
understandable public fear of terrorism as they attempted to gut
one of the country's strongest Sunshine Laws. Unfortunately,
many of these bills will be considered again during the 2002
session.
Legislators were unable to provide any evidence that access
truly compromises safety. In reality, just the opposite may be
true. Access to public records since the Sept. 11 attacks has
given the public valuable insight into governmental actions,
where and how to strengthen state and national security systems
and emergency and public health response programs. This
information is vital to ensuring our ability to hold our
government officials accountable for the decisions they made
before Sept. 11 and the decisions they'll make in the wake of
the terrorists' attacks.
Come to think of it, that may be what some legislators are
afraid of.

Sandra Chance is the director of the Brechner Center for
Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.




University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs