Title: Brechner report
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00090012/00113
 Material Information
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: May 2009
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00090012
Volume ID: VID00113
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Volume 33, Number 5 A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information U College of Journalism and Communications U University of Florida
May 2009

Survey finds states lag in online public records

WASHINGTON A nationwide availability of 20 types of public records
survey of state government information including death certificates, teacher
available online found that "some of certifications, school building inspections
the most important information is being and gas pump overcharges. The teams
left offline," FR E E D O M rated the records on usability,
according to F R E E D) M including if the information
Sunshine Week, OF INFT ORMATTIONT was clearly linked and whether
a national IN RJN the information was free to
initiative led by members of the news download.
media to bring attention to open Texas was the top rated state with
government issues, records available online in all 20
Surveyors in every state looked at the categories. The survey found Florida had

AG gives guidance on FOIA
WASHINGTON Attorney General without FOIA requests for it.
Eric Holder issued a memorandum The memo also called for the policy
guiding federal agencies on how to to be applied to pending litigation "where
interpret the Freedom of Information Act. there is a substantial likelihood that
Holder's memo reinforces the application of the guidance would result
presumption of disclosure asserted by in a material disclosure of additional
President Barack Obama on his first day information," according to the National
in office. Security Archive.
In the memo, Holder stated that the "The new Attorney General guidelines
Department of Justice will only defend read as if there is a new show in town
denials if the agency finds a foreseeable and for the first time in eight years

risk to an interest protected by an
exemption under FOIA. Additionally,
Holder stated that agencies should
proactively post information online even

everyone is welcome to come see it,"
said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel for
the archive.
Source: National Security Archive

Libel tourism bill introduced

WASHINGTON Sen. Arlen Specter,
R-Pa., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman,
I-Conn., reintroduced a "libel tourism"
bill that would
prevent U.S. courts L IB E L
from recognizing LI
libel judgments
"that are deemed repugnant to the First
Amendment," according to The Reporters
Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The Free Speech Protection Act of
2009, bill S. 449, also allows defendants
who have been sued for libel in other
countries to countersue in the U.S.
Rep. Peter King, R-NY, introduced the

bill, H.R. 1304, in the House.
The bills have been introduced as a
response to a defamation judgment against
New York-based author Rachel Ehrenfeld,
who was sued in a British court by one
of the subjects in her 2003 book Funding
Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How
to Stop It, according to the RCFP.
New York has also enacted a law that
prevents state courts from recognizing
libel judgments of foreign courts that are
contrary to the First Amendment.
Source: The Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press

14 of the 20 categories of records online.
Mississippi was rated the lowest with only
four of the 20 types of records available
The records most frequently found
online were statewide school test scores
available in all states and Department
of Transportation projects and contracts
available in 48 states. Death certificates,
available in five states, were the least
likely to be found online.
Source: www.sunshineweek.org

School board

can ban book
MIAMI The 11th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the
school board was not infringing on
freedom of speech by removing a
book from library shelves that parents
complained depicted a one-sided view
of daily life in Cuba.
The book, "Vamos a Cuba," and
the English version "A Visit to Cuba,"
by Alta
Schreier FIRST
in communist uniforms celebrating
Cuba's 1959 revolution. In 2006,
a parent, who had been a political
prisoner in Cuba, complained about
the book because it did not discuss
the lack of civil liberties on the island,
according to The Associated Press.
Howard Simon, executive
director of the ACLU of Florida,
called the decision censorship
and promised "further legal
action to prevent the shelves of
Miami-Dade school libraries from
being scrubbed of books that some
people find to have an objectionable
view point," according to the AP
Source: The Associated Press


Proposed bill could exempt crime scene photos

Representative Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland,
is sponsoring a bill that would limit
access to crime scene photos and videos
now available under the Florida Public
Records Law.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd got
Stargel to sponsor the bill that would
limit access to images of the dead or
of severed extremities or images of

someone's injuries. Immediate access to
the crime scene photos would be limited
to families of the victims. Members of
the media and others could access the
photos only after judicial review.
Judd said he is sponsoring the
legislation because he has heard of
someone trying to obtain crime scene
images around the state and is concerned
they might be posted online, according to

the St. Petersburg Times.
"People who abuse government
records are a small minority," said media
attorney Carol LoCicero, according to
The St. Petersburg Times. "The abuse
should be punished. Access shouldn't be
shut down."
State Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness,
is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.
Source: St. Petersburg Times

18-year ban on pictures of military coffins lifted

WASHINGTON Defense Secretary
Robert M. Gates approved modifying an
18-year ban on photographs and videos of
flag-draped caskets of military personnel
killed in war.
The ban, put in place in 1991 during
the Persian Gulf War, prohibited
photographs and videos of the "dignified
transfer of remains" ceremony performed
when caskets arrive at Dover Air Force
Base, Del., the only point of entry for the

FOI Web site

General Bill McCollum unveiled
MyFLSunshine.com, a Web site

designed to provide training on the
requirements of and compliance with
Florida's public records and open
meetings laws.
The Web site contains five
training videos, a searchable
database of attorney general opinions
related to open government and a list
of frequently asked questions about
public records and open meetings.
The site also contains information
about the Attorney General's
mediation program.
"MyFLSunshine.com will
be the guidebook for operating
in the sunshine, and I urge our
public entities to make use of this
resource," McCollum said, according
to his office.
Source: http: /www.
myfloridalegal. corn

remains into the U.S.
Under the new policy, the news media
will be allowed to document the transfer
of remains at Dover and other transfer
points so long as the families of the
dead agree, Gates said, according to The
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the
The change is part of President
Barack Obama's move toward a more
transparent government, according to

COLLIER COUNTY Ajudge denied
the school district's motion to dismiss
a lawsuit alleging county school board
members violated the Sunshine Law in the
firing of one superintendent and the hiring
of another in July 2007.
Teamsters Local 79 and Collier
County school bus driver Charlotte Locke
filed the suit seeking to void the school
board's action approving the contract
with Dennis Thompson, who became
superintendent of the school district after
then Superintendent Ray Baker was fired.
Just a few weeks earlier, the board
voted 3-2 to fire Baker. At that same

The Washington Post.
The ban has been lifted on several
occasions including in October 2000 by
President Bill Clinton during the arrival of
military personnel killed in the bombing
of the USS Cole and in September 2001
during the transfer of victims of the attack
on the Pentagon, according to the Post.
Source: The Washington Post and The
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the

meeting, board members voted to begin
discussing the position with Thompson.
No other candidates were interviewed,
according to the Naples Daily News.
In denying the motion, the judge said
nothing precluded Locke from bringing
the suit forward, according to the Naples
Daily News.
The State Attorney's Office has cleared
the Collier County School Board of
Sunshine Law violations in the firing of
Baker and hiring of Thompson finding that
not enough information had been provided
to begin a formal investigation.
Source: Naples Daily News

HOAs may be violating law
PONTE VEDRA BEACH St. John's it or of the law's requirements, according
County Attorney Patrick McCormack to the Ponte Vedra Leader
warned homeowner associations (HOA) HOA and HOA subcommittees, such
and association subcommittees in Ponte as architectural review committees,
Vedra Beach that they may be violating are subject to the Sunshine Law if
the Sunshine Law. the association's approval is needed
McCormack spoke to HOA members before the county issues a building
at the Ponte Vedra Beach Branch Library permit because the HOA is playing a
and said that most of the local HOAs role in a county decision, according to
were subject to the Sunshine Law in McCormack.
certain situations but may not be aware of Source: Ponte Vedra Leader

2 The Brechner Report May 2009


Teamsters sue school district

Post 9/11

opinions out

WASHINGTON Nine secret
legal opinions issued by Bush
administration lawyers after 9/11
were disclosed publicly for the first
time by the Justice Department.


The opinions showed a broad
interpretation of presidential
authority asserting that the president
could use the military within the
U.S. to conduct raids without search
warrants, among other things. The
opinions were released as part of
the Obama administration's push
towards greater transparency.
One opinion issued Oct. 23,
2001 to Alberto Gonzalez, then
White House counsel, stated that
"First Amendment speech and press
rights, may also be subordinated
to the overriding need to wage war
successfully," according to the St.
Petersburg Times.
Earlier this year, before President
George W. Bush left office, Justice
Department official Stephen
Bradbury issued a memo formally
repudiating the opinions and stating
that they had not been relied on
since 2003, according to The St.
Petersburg Times.
Source: St. Petersburg Times

Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, PO Box 118400
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400
http //www brechner org
e-mail brechnerreport@jou ufl edu
Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Exec. Director/Exec. Editor
Adrianna C. Rodriguez, Editor
Alana Kolifrath, Production Coordinator
Alison Parker, Production Assistant
The BrechnerReport is published 12 times a
year under the auspices of the University of Florida
Foundation The Brechner Report is ajoint effort
of The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information,
the University of Florida College of Journalism and
Communications, the Florida Press Association,
the Florida Association of Broadcasters, the Florida
Society of Newspaper Editors and the Joseph L
Brechner Endowment


Legislature could save e-mails

legislature could easily expand disk
space to accommodate archiving
e-mails of House and Senate members
for up to three years, according to The
Associated Press.
Currently, the legislature has about
a terabyte of e-mail storage space, "or
about the space on six Sony PlayStation
3 video game systems," according to
the AP
The cost of expanding space to
allow for storage of e-mails for up to
three years would cost the same or less
than the current systems in place in the
House and Senate.
The Florida legislature's policy on
e-mail retention is less restrictive than
other state agencies, including the
governor's office which permanently
archives important e-mails.
In the House, representatives can

decide if and for how long to keep
e-mails. Messages in the deleted items
folder are erased every 30 days and
sent e-mails are deleted every 90 days,
said Jill Chamberlin, spokeswoman for
the House speaker, according to the AP
The House's e-mail retention policy
came under scrutiny when former
House Speaker Ray Sansom's office
said e-mails requested in connection
with a $110,000-a-yearjob he took at
Northwest Florida State College had
been deleted as part of the monthly
routine to make space on the server.
The Senate does not have a deletion
policy, but e-mails in mailboxes are
saved nightly and deleted e-mails are
saved on backup for about a month,
said Jaryn Emhof, spokeswoman for
the Senate president, according to the
Source: The Associated Press

Tracking tax spending online

Representative Dorothy L. Hukill,
R-Port Orange, introduced the
Track Your Taxes-Florida Budget
Openness Act in the Florida House of
Representatives to provide online access
for the public to track how state and
local tax dollars are spent across the
House Bill 971 would provide
access to tax records through a single
searchable Web site accessible through
www.MyFlorida.com. The site would
contain information including the date,
source, and purpose of each expenditure
and revenue. The site would also
include any government contracts in

which tax dollars were spent.
State Senator Ronda Storms,
R-Valrico, is sponsoring the bill in the
Florida Senate.
In March, Gov. Charlie Crist and
CFO Alex Sink unveiled the Sunshine
Spending Web site which provides a
searchable database of vendors receiving
tax dollars. The Web site in Hukill's
bill would go further by including
information on all state appropriations
and expenditures online. Eventually,
local agencies, governmental entities and
school boards would also be included,
according to Adam Zurbriggen, Hukill's
legislative assistant.
Source: www.myfloridahouse.gov

County attorney's notes gone

LEE COUNTY County officials
claim original notes taken by an
investigator whose 13-page report led to
the firing of nine county employees do
not exist, according to The News-Press.
The News-Press and some of the
fired employees filed public records
requests for the notes taken by North
Carolina attorney Debra Ragin
Jessup when she interviewed four
of the nine employees about alleged
racial harassment within the facilities
management department.

The Deputy County Attorney An-
drea Fraser told The News-Press via e-
mail that there was no need for Jessup
to preserve her notes because her notes
became the 13-page report.
Jessup was paid up to $5,000 of
taxpayer money, according to The
"The taxpayers paid for those
(notes), and where are they?" asked
Karl Harsh, one of the fired employees,
according to The News-Press.
Source: The News-Press

The Brechner Report U May 2009


University of Florida
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, P.O. Box 118400
Gainesvlle, FL 32611
May 2009

Non-Profit Organization
Permit No. 94
Gainesville, FL


Final Report recommends reforms to access laws

Florida's open government laws are some of the
oldest and, arguably, the best in the nation. Never in the
state's history, however, have the laws been thoroughly
reviewed, particularly a review aimed towards reform.
Both the Public Records Law and the Sunshine Law
have been amended over the years, usually in patchwork
fashion, and scores of new exceptions are created every
legislative session. As a result, our open government
laws are rife with inconsistencies and redundancies. Barbara
Also, the laws haven't kept pace with rapid advances
in technology and the increasing use of personal computers
and handheld communication devices are placing strains on the
public records and open meetings laws. The result has been
The an erosion in the public's
constitutional right of access to
B ack P age the records and meetings of its
By Barbara A. Petersen government.
On June 19, 2007, Gov.
Charlie Crist issued Executive Order 07-107 and created the
Commission on Open Government Reform for the purpose of
reviewing, evaluating, and issuing recommendations regarding
Florida's public records and open meetings laws, noting that
"an open and accessible government is the key to establishing
and maintaining the people's trust and confidence in their
government." Over the next year and a half, the commission
held a series of public hearings across Florida, taking testimony
from scores of people on a wide variety of issues including the
need for a thorough review of open government exemptions,
and the creation of new exemptions and elimination of some
now on the books; the cost of accessing public records; the
effect of the increasing use of handheld communications devices
on Florida's open meetings law; the right of access to records
stored in electronic recordkeeping systems; the importance of
financial transparency in government; the need for coordinated
and effective enforcement mechanisms; and access to legislative
records and meetings.
The commission finished its work in December and its final
report, containing 42 separate recommendations, was issued in
January 2009. Many of the recommendations require legislative
action, but a number of others are policy recommendations
that can be instituted by state agencies and local governments


without legislative or gubernatorial input.
A few reflect action already taken by Gov. Crist or
recommend codification of the governor's policies.
For example, shortly after the Tallahassee hearing
where citizens complained of poor treatment by
county officials, the governor issued an executive
order requiring state agencies to adopt an Open
Government Bill of Rights "to guarantee that the right
Petersen of access to public meetings and records is safeguarded
and protected." The commission recommended
codification of the Bill of Rights as a preamble to a consolidated
open government law, one that combines both the public records
and open meetings requirements currently in law.
In March, Gov. Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink
announced the creation of a new web site, www.flgov.com/
sunshinespending, designed to help taxpayers track how state
government spends tax payer dollars, a development in line
with the commission's recommendation for enhanced financial
The commission also tackled the problem of the effect of
advances in information technology on the Public Records Law,
recommending that the Legislature adopt legal standards for
new and redesigned computer systems that will work to improve
public access to the public records stored in agency databases and
computers, and that agencies create systems or establish policies
to provide enhanced access to all public record e-mails sent or
received by government officials.
The commission's work was both an historic and Herculean
effort on the part of its nine members. Now the task of reforming
Florida's famed open government laws is in the hands of the
Legislature and our elected representatives at all levels of
government. So let's remind them of this: The importance of
open government the inherent right of the people to oversee
their government and hold it accountable for its actions cannot
be overstated. As Judge Damon Keith, senior judge for the 6th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, aptly said, "democracies die
behind closed doors."

Barbara A. Petersen is president of the FirstAmendment
Foundation and chaired the Commission on Open Government

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