Title: Brechner report
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00090012/00115
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Title: Brechner report
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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: July 2009
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Volume 33, Number 7 A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information 0 College of Journalism and Communications U University of Florida
July 2009

Supreme Court upholds fleeting expletives ban

WASHINGTON, D.C. In a 5-4 FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.
decision, the U.S. Supreme Court In FCC v. Fox Television, Justice
upheld the Federal Communications Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority
Commission's power to fine broadcasters opinion, wrote that the FCC had authority
for airing a single expletive and remanded to crackdown on "foul-mouthed glitteratae
the case back to the appellate court. from Hollywood," referring to 2002 and
In FCC v. Fox FT 2003 incidents in which Cher, Nicole
Television, the Supreme JF R Richie and Bono said an expletive
Court upheld the on broadcast television, in
commission's new AMENDi ENT separate incidents. Justice
policy that a single Scalia was joined by Chief
fleeting expletive can trigger fines for the Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony
network and all local broadcasters airing Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel
the show. Before the policy change, the Alito.
FCC only fined broadcasters for repeated Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a
expletives as established in the 1978 case, dissent and was joined by Justices John

Federal court allows Web updates
WEST PALM BEACH Reporters Previously, reporters were not allowed
will be allowed to use the Internet to send to bring cell phones or BlackBerry
Web updates from federal courts in the phones into a federal courthouse within
Southern District of Florida, according to the district. The court's policy followed
an administrative the Federal Rules of Criminal
order issued by C O U RT S Procedure, which bans "broadcasting"
U.S. District Judge in federal court. The rule dates back
Federico Moreno, chief judge for the to 1944. In recent years, some federal
Southern District of Florida. judges have decided that the ban was
Moreno was responding to a request not intended to apply to new technology,
from The Palm Beach Post. according to The Palm Beach Post.
While reporters will not be allowed to Many state and local judges have
text or blog from inside the courtroom, allowed laptops and other technology in
they will be allowed to step outside to their courtrooms.
send the updates. Source: The Palm Beach Post

Court recordings request rejected
TAMPA The 2nd District Court of have captured conversations protected by
Appeals denied a public records request attorney-client privilege.
from The Tampa Tribune for audio The court ruled that the audio captured
recordings of a court proceeding. on the digital court reporting system did
The newspaper was seeking a recording not constitute a court record subject to the
of a January sentencing hearing. public records law because the records
Attorneys for the records custodian, are used to create the official court record,
Chief Judge Robert Morris of the 6th according to The Tampa Tribune.
Judicial Circuit, argued that the records The court also ruled that the record
from the recording system should not be custodian may decide in what form to
released because the digital court reporting release the court record.
system, which records everything, may Source: http://tbo.com

Paul Stevens, Ruth Ginsburg and David
Souter. Breyer wrote that the FCC had not
explained its reasoning for changing the
policy nor addressed the First Amendment
need to avoid censorship.
Broadcasters had argued they should
not be subject to indecency rules because
cable and satellite systems are not
regulated and that the FCC's decision
violated the Administration Procedures
Act and was "arbitrary and capricious,"
according to The Reporters Committee for
Freedom ofPress.
Source: Los Angeles Times, The
Reporters Committee for Freedom of
Press and http://www.supremecourtus.gov

House passes

shield bill
House of Representatives passed the
Free Flow of Information Act by a
voice vote.
The bill, H.R. 985, would give
limited protection to journalists who
refuse to reveal confidential sources.

Supporters of the federal shield
bill have argued that the bill protects
the public's right to know because
sources will not reveal information
to journalists if they fear retribution.
Opponents argued that a shield law
could hinder criminal investigations
and threaten national security,
according to The Palm Beach Post.
The bill contains exemptions
for national security, terrorism,
and situations where reporters are
eyewitnesses to crimes.
Source: The Palm Beach Post and
The Reporters Committee for Freedom


Grand jury indicts former House Speaker Sansom

TALLAHASSEE A grand jury
indicted former House Speaker Ray
Sansom, R-Destin, and Northwest
Florida State College President Bob
Richburg on felony charges in connection
with $35 million Sansom funneled to the
college during his two-years as the House
budget chairman and in connection with
$6 million in state funds sought to build a
hangar for Republican donor and Sansom
friend Jay Odom.
Sansom was indicted on charges that
he falsified the state budget to get the

$6 million in state funds for Odom's
hurricane proof hangar.
Richburg was indicted for perjury
after he testified that there was never
discussion about Odom using the hangar.
Planning documents and e-mails
obtained through public records link
Sansom, Richburg and developer Jay
Odom to plans for building the facility.
The grand jury also determined that
both Sansom and Richburg violated "the
spirit of the Sunshine Law" in holding a
secret meeting of college trustees.

Sansom came under fire earlier this year
for accepting a $110,000 job at the college,
steering millions in state funds to the college
over a two-year period, and for coordinating
the meeting of trustees at a members-only
club via e-mail with Richburg.
According to the grand jury findings
the meeting was partly held "to thank
the college's board of trustees for taking
responsibility for the Destin Project,
an aircraft hangar," according to the St.
Petersburg Times.
Source: St. Petersburg Times

Texas open meetings law may be unconstitutional

TEXAS In a unanimous decision,
the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
New Orleans ruled that strict scrutiny
applies when considering restrictions on
public officials' speech under the Texas
Open Meetings Law.
The court remanded the case back to
the trial court for review of the case on
whether the Texas Open Meetings Law
met the strict scrutiny standard.
In the case, Rangra v. Brown, two

disclosure forms that reveal the income
and possible conflicts of interest of
public officials are difficult for residents
to get a hold of, despite the forms being
public records, according to The Miami
A "spot check" of five south Florida
cities by the newspaper found disclosure
forms were not available online in any
of the five cities checked. The cities
were Coral Gables, Fort Lauderdale,
Hollywood, Miami and Pembroke Pines.
The forms are stored at various city,

Alpine City Council members were
prosecuted for violating the open
meetings law after exchanging private
e-mails discussing the time and content of
a council meeting to consider a contract
issue. The charges alleged the two
members formed a quorum required to
hold discussions in public.
The district attorney dropped the
charges. The council members brought
suit in federal court against the state of

county and state offices making them
more inaccessible, according to The
Miami Herald.
When questioned, officials cited
low public interest among the reasons
initiatives to publish financial disclosure
forms online have failed or are not
Last year, 768 elected officials faced
fines from the Florida Commission
on Ethics related to their financial
disclosure forms, according to The Miami
Source: The Miami Herald

Suit over job records settled

AVON PARK A lawsuit filed by
Ted Long, the public works department
coordinator, against City Manager Sarah
Adelt was settled with the city granting
access to the public records requested
and agreeing to pay attorneys' fees,
according to the News Sun.
Long filed the lawsuit after he was
denied access to his personnel record

and other documents related to his
performance as public works department
coordinator. He filed a written public
records request with the city manager
for those records and "any and all public
records in support of any allegations of
violating any city policy," among others,
according to the News Sun.
Source: News Sun

Texas arguing that the state's open meetings
law violated their First Amendment rights
of free speech.
Few laws are found to meet the strict
scrutiny standard, which requires that laws
be narrowly tailored to further a substantial
government interest.
The federal court's opinion is controlling
law in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Source: The Reporters Committee for
Freedom ofPress

Quest for leak

DETROIT A federal judge
ruled that Detroit Free Press
Reporter David Ashenfelter can
invoke the Fifth Amendment to
avoid disclosing his source at the
Justice Department.

Ashenfelter was subpoenaed to
reveal his source in a 2003 story
disclosing that Richard Convertino,
a former federal prosecutor, was
under internal investigation for his
handling of a terror trial.
Convertino is suing the Justice
Department arguing the leak
violated the law.
After the ruling, Convertino filed
a motion seeking 2007 testimony
from Detroit Free Press editors as
well as other documents that could
reveal the identity of the sources.
Source: www.freep.com

2 The Brechner Report July 2009


Financial forms hard to access


TALLAHASSEE The following is
a summary of bills pertaining to public
records and open meetings introduced
during the 2009 legislative session. Chief
sponsors of the bills are in parentheses
at the end of the summaries. Copies of
the legislation in full are available at the
Florida Legislature's Web site (www.
leg. state.fl.us). SB = Senate Bill; HB
House Bill; CS = Committee Substitute.

The following nine bills create new
exemptions to the state Public Records
and Open A fI... r,,i, laws. The status of
each bill as ofJune 22 is noted.
HB 7093 Exemption/
Telecommunications and Broadband
Companies: Creates a public records
exemption for proprietary confidential
business information obtained from
telecommunications companies and
broadband companies by the Department
of Management Services. Exempted
information includes plans, billing
and payment records, trade secrets or
other information that is intended to be
confidential and is not otherwise publicly
available in the format held by the
department. Information related to maps,
facility locations, broadband services and
speed is not proprietary. (H. Economic
Development Community Affairs Policy
Council) Awaiting final action by Gov.

HB 7119 Exemption/Education
Records: Creates a public records
exemption for K-12 education records
held by an agency, public school, center,
institution, or other entity that is part
of state's education system. The bill
also expands an exemption for records
of students in public postsecondary
educational institutions including
education records and applicant records.
(H. Education Policy Council) Awaiting
final action by Gov. Crist.

HB 7125 Exemption/Military Base
Closures: Creates a public records
exemption for portions of records held by
the Florida Council on Military Base and
Mission Support on U.S. Department of
Defense Base Realignment and Closure
Activities related to 1) strengths and
weaknesses of military installations
or missions; 2) selection criteria for
realignment and closure of military bases
and missions; 3) Florida's strategy to
retain military bases during federal base
realignment and closure procedures; 4)

agreements or proposals to relocate or
realign military units of missions. Also
creates a public meetings exemption
for council meetings at which exempt
information is presented or discussed. (H.
Economic Development & Community
Affairs Council) Signed by Gov. Crist
June 10.

SB 166 Exemption/Donors to Public
Buildings: Creates a public records
exemption for the name, address
and telephone number of donors or
prospective donors to publicly owned
buildings or facilities if the donor desires
to remain anonymous. (Ring, D-Margate)
Awaiting final action by Gov. Crist.

SB 2158 Exemption/Florida Insurance
Guaranty Association: Creates a public
records exemption for records held by the
Florida Insurance Guaranty Association:
1) claims files until the end of litigation,
settlement and final closing of all claims
related to the incident; 2) medical
records and information relating to the
medical condition or status of a claimant;
and 3) records privileged by attorney-
client communications. (Haridopolos,
R-Melbourne) Signed by Gov. Crist June

CS/HB 135 Exemption/Insured
Dependents: Creates a public records
exemption for the personal identifying
information of insured dependents of
current and former agency employees
insured by an agency group insurance
plan. (McKeel, R-Lakeland) Signed by
Gov. Crist June 1.

CS/HB 631 Exemption/Estate
Inventories and Accountings: Creates
a public records exemption for estate or
elective estate inventories and accounting
filed in an estate proceeding. The records
may be disclosed in specific circumstances
including under court order upon showing
good cause. (Hukill, R- Port Orange)
Awaiting final action by Gov. Crist.

CS/HB 895 Exemption/School Testing
Investigations: Creates a public
records exemption for the identity of
an educational institution, the personal
identifying information of all personnel
and records of misconduct obtained or
reported in connection with investigating
testing impropriety by the Department of
Education. The records are exempt until
the investigation concludes or becomes

inactive. (Roberson, R-Port Charlotte)
Signed by Gov. Crist June 10.

CS/SB 440 Exemption/Controlled
Substances Database: Creates a public
records exemption for information and
records reported to the Department of
Health via the electronic prescription
drug monitoring program. The exempted
identifying information of patients,
health care providers, pharmacists and
employees of practitioners includes
the name, address, telephone number,
insurance plan number, social security
number, provider number, Drug
Enforcement Administration number, and
other unique identifiers. (Fasano, R-New
Port Richey) Signed by Gov. Crist June

The following six bills concerning Public
Records and Open fI.. i, ',,, laws were
enacted or amended during the 2009
L. g, ii, i,. session.
HB 381 Care of Children: Creates the
"Zahid Jones, Jr., Give Grandparents
& Other Relatives a Voice Act," which
requires that the case record of child
under supervision or in custody of the
Department of Children and Families be
maintained in a complete and accurate
manner. (Thompson, D- Orlando) Signed
by Gov. Crist May 20.

CS/SB 126 Children and Vulnerable
Adults: Requires that the case record of a
child under the supervision or custody of
the Department of Children and Family
Services be maintained in a complete
and accurate manner and that the file be
available to the child without cost and be
accessible by the child's foster parents,
pre-adoptive parents, adoptive parents and
adoption entities under certain conditions.
(Dockery, R-Lakeland) Signed by Gov.
Crist May 14.

CS/SB 162 Electronic Health Records:
Expands access to a patient's health
records to facilitate the electronic
exchange of data between certain health
care facility personnel. Also creates
the Florida Electronic Health Records
Exchange Act. (Ring, D-Margate) Signed
by Gov. Crist June 16.

CS/SB 1796 Financial Transparency:
Requires the Executive Office of the
Governor to establish a Web site available
through the state's Internet portal to
provide access to appropriations and

The Brechner Report U July 2009


expenditures data for all branches of
government. Also directs the Auditing
Committee to provide oversight and
management of the Web site and
provide information on governmental
appropriations and expenditures.
(Alexander, R- Winter Haven) Signed by
Gov. Crist May 27.

CS/CS/SB 2108 Clerks of Court/
Transfer of Services: Stipulates that the
Clerks of Court Operations Corporation
be housed in the Justice Administrative
Commission and that all revenues
received by the clerks office be state
funds. The bill also calls for the clerks of
court to be funded by state appropriation
rather than filing fees. Also requires that
the clerks of court develop standards for
reviewing the clerks of court performance
and notify the Legislature and the
Supreme Court of any clerk not meeting
standards. (Pruitt, R- Port St. Lucie)
Signed by Gov. Crist June 18.

CS/SB 2188 Administrative Procedures/
Public Meetings: Amends ch. 120, the
Administrative Procedures Act to require
that each agency provide notice and the
agenda of public meetings, hearings and
workshops on the agency's Web site.
(Joyner, D-Tampa) Signed by Gov. Crist
June 16.

The following thirteen exemptions were
reenacted during the 2009 session under
the Open Government Sunset Review
Act. Amendments are noted. Other bills
introduced during the session that were
similar or identical to these bills, but were
not passed, are available in the "Related
Bills" section of the respective !,. i',r,. ',i
HB 7013 OGSR/Eminent Domain
Records: Reenacts with minor
modification s. 73.0155, F.S., providing
an exemption for business information
provided by the owner of a business to
governmental condemning authority for
the purpose of making an offer of business
damages in negotiations in an eminent
domain proceeding. (H. Governmental
Affairs Committee) Awaiting final action
by Gov. Crist.

HB 7015 OGSR/Campaign Finance
Reports: Reenacts with minor
modification s. 106.0706, F.S., providing
an exemption for information entered into
the electronic filing system in connection
with electronic filing of campaign
finance reports until the information if
submitted to the Division of Elections is
4 The Brechner Report July 2009

a filed report. (H. Governmental Affairs
Committee) Signed by Gov. Crist June 10.

HB 7017 OGSR/Building Plans and
Blueprints: Reenacts with minor
modification s. 119.701(3)(c), F.S.,
providing an exemption for building
plans, blueprints, schematic drawings and
diagrams held by an agency depicting
the internal layout or structural elements
of certain facilities, complexes and
developments. The exemption does not
apply to comprehensive plans, site plans
or amendments submitted for approval
under local land or zoning regulations.
(H. Governmental Affairs Committee)
Awaiting final action by Gov. Crist.

HB 7021 OGSR/Children's Services
Council: Reenacts with minor
modification s. 125.901(11), F.S.,
providing an exemption for personal
identifying information held by a
children's services council regarding a
child or the child's parent or guardian. (H.
Governmental Affairs Committee) Signed
by Gov. Crist June 10.

HB 7025 OGSR/Archival Material:
Reenacts with minor modification
s. 275.38, F.S., providing an exemption
for non-public manuscripts or archival
material turned over to the Florida State
Archives under special conditions. The
manuscripts or material will be subject
to disclosure 50 years after the date
of the creation of such records. (H.
Governmental Affairs Committee) Signed
by Gov. Crist June 10.

HB 7035 OGSR/ Surplus State Lands:
Reenacts with modification s. 253.034(6)
(g)1., F.S., providing an exemption for
written valuations of surplus state lands
and related documents until two weeks
before a contract regarding the purchase,
exchange or disposal of such land is first
considered for approval. (H. Governmental
Affairs Committee) Signed by Gov. Crist
June 16.

HB 7037 OGSR/Home Addresses of U.S.
Attorneys: Reenacts, narrows and moves
the public records exemption for the home
addresses of U.S. attorneys, judges and
magistrates. s. 119.071(5)(i), F.S., exempts
the home addresses, telephone numbers
and photographs of current or former
U.S. attorneys, judges or magistrates, as
well as, the home addresses, telephone
numbers, photographs and place of
employment of such persons' spouses

and children. HB 7037 also exempts the
name and location of the schools or day
care facilities attended by their children
and requires that the attorney, judge or
magistrate request confidentiality in
writing and provide a written statement
that reasonable efforts have been
made to protect such information in
other publicly-available sources. (H.
Governmental Affairs Committee) Signed
by Gov. Crist June 11.

HB 7039 OGSR/ Insurance Claim
Data Exchange Information: Reenacts
s. 409.25661, F.S., providing an
exemption for information obtained
by the Department of Revenue in
connection with a program that allows
the department to match insurance claims
of non-custodial parents who owe past-
due child support. The information is
confidential and exempt until a match
is determined to exist at which time
the information becomes subject to
public disclosure. If no match exists
the information will be destroyed. (H.
Governmental Affairs Committee) Signed
by Gov. Crist June 2.

HB 7041 OGSR/ Human & Machine
Cognition Institute: Reenacts with
modification s. 1044.4472, F.S.,
exempting 1) material related to
methods of manufacture or production;
2) potential or actual trade secrets; 3)
patentable materials or proprietary
business information; 4) the identity
of donors or potential donors who
wish to remain anonymous; and 5) any
information received by the Institute
that would otherwise be confidential
and exempt. Also reenacts exemptions
for portions of meetings at which
exempt information is discussed. (H.
Governmental Affairs Committee) Signed
by Gov. Crist June 18.

CS/HB 7019 OGSR/Recreation
Programs for Children: Reenacts with
some modification s. 119.071(5)(c), F.S.,
providing an exemption for information
that would identify or locate a child who
participates in a government-sponsored
recreation program or information that
would identify a parent or guardian of
child. "Government-sponsored recreation
program" is defined as an after-school
program, an athletic program, a nature
program, a camp or other recreational
program for which an agency assumes
responsibility for a child participating
in the program. Access may be allowed


upon court order showing good cause.
(H. Governmental Affairs Committee)
Signed by Gov. Crist June 10.

CS/HB 7027 OGSR/Motor Vehicle
Records: Reenacts with significant
technical modification s. 119.0712(2),
F.S., the Florida Driver's Privacy
Protection Act, which exempts from
public records the personal identifying
information contained in motor vehicle
records. (H. Government Affairs
Committee) Signed by Gov. Crist June

CS/HB 7043 OGSR/Scripps
Research Institute: Reenacts with
some modification s. 288.9551, F.S.,
providing exemption for various
public records and open meetings
for the Scripps Florida Funding
Corporation, the Office of Tourism,
Trade and Economic Development
and the Scripps Research Institute.
HB 7043 provides exemptions for
1) materials related to methods of
manufacture or production, potential
or actual trade secrets, patentable
materials, or proprietary information
received, generated, ascertained or
discovered by or through the Scripps
Research Institute; 2) agreements
and proposals to receive funding; 3)
materials relating to the recruitment
of scientists and researchers; 4) the
identity of donors or potential donors
who wish to remain anonymous;
5) information that is otherwise
confidential or exempt; 6) personal
identifying information of participants
in trials or experiments; 7) medical or

Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, P 0 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 Brechner Report is published 12 times a
year under the auspices of the University of Florida
Foundation The Brechner Report is a joint 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

health records related to participants in
clinical trials; 8) portions of meetings
at which exempt information is
discussed; and 9) all records generated
during closed meetings. HB 7043 also
stipulates that the Scripps Research
Institute is a private, not-for-profit
entity and is not subject to the public
records law or the open meetings
law. The exemption will be subject
to review and reenactment in 2014.
(H. Governmental Affairs Committee)
Awaiting final action by Gov. Crist.

CS/HB 7051 OGSR/Social Security
Numbers: Reenacts with modification
s. 119.071(4), FS., providing
an exemption for social security
numbers of government employees
and also amending s. 119.071(5)(a),
F.S., providing a general exemption
for social security numbers. (H.
Governmental Affairs Committee)
Awaiting final action by Gov. Crist.

The following bill repealed an i.. \i n,
HB 7023 Exemption/Patient Safety
Data: Repeals s. 381.2073, F.S., which
provided an exemption for information
identifying a patient contained in
patient safety data and information
identifying the person reporting the
information in records held by the
Florida Patient Safety Corporation.
(H. Governmental Affairs Committee)
Signed by Gov. Crist May 27.

The following bills were introduced
during the 2009 session but were not
HB 601 Exemption/Self-Critical
Analysis Reports
HB 1017 Exemption/Controlled
Substances Database
SB 76 Juvenile Records
SB 86 Criminal Records/
SB 176 Exemption/Juvenile Blood
SB 468 Exemption/School
SB 584 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 1162 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 1204 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 1246 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 1494 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 1820 Insurance Companies/
Trade Secret Information
SB 1884 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 1946 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 2028 Exemption/Shell Bill

SB 2042 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 2044 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 2046 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 2054 Exemption/Shell Bill
SB 2142 Exemption/Foster Parents
SB 2144 Exemption/Stalking Victims'
Voter Registration Records
SB 2162 Exemption/Seaport Authorities
SB 2432 Exemption/Home Addresses of
SB 358 and SB 1836 Exemption/
Proprietary Business Information
HB 47 and SB 350 Entertainment
Industry Economic Development
HB 145 and SB 612 Exemption/
Controlled Substances Database
HB 221 and SB 1044 Exemption/
Abandoned Properties Registry
HB 275 and SB 638 Commercials Use/
Crime Scene Photos
HB 277 and SB 636 Exemption/ Crime
Scene Photos
HB 395 and SB 1416 -Exemption/
Collaborative Process
HB 409 and SB 1260 Exemption/
Identifying Information Educators,
spouse and children
HB 585 and SB 1354 Exemption/
Controlled Substance Database
HB 727 and SB 1314 Exemption/
Complaints Firefighters
HB 749 and SB 648 Exemption/Donors
- Department of Elderly Affairs
HB 817 and SB 1488 Exemption Cell
phone numbers
HB 851 and SB 1386 Exemption/
Litigation Meetings
HB 1081 and SB 1366 Data Destruction
HB 1159 and SB 1046 Exemption/
Hurricane Protection Program of the
Florida Catastrophe Fund
HB 1421 and SB 594 Financial
Transparency Web site
HB 1477 and SB 2292 Internet
Publication/Meetings Notices
HB 699 and CS/SB 1218 Exemption/
Home Addresses Department of Business
and Professional Regulation
SB 2652 and CS/HB 7115 Exemption/
Office of Financial Regulation
CS/HB 931 and CS/SB 1368 Financial
Reports Local Government
CS/HB 985 and SB 1582 Exemption/
County Ethics Complaints
CS/HB 1229 and CS/CS/SB 114 -
Contaminated Property Notification
CS/HB 1439 and CS/CS/SB 126 -Access
to DCF Records

Source: First Amendment Foundation,
http://www.flsenate.gov and http://www.

The Brechner Report U July 2009


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

Non-Profit Organization
Permit No. 94
Gainesville, FL


If papers can't challenge
One of the potential tragedies of the economic
downturn for American newspapers is that one of our
traditional roles playing watchdog to make sure
government is operating openly and in the public's best
interest is growing more difficult.
So who'll do it if we don't?
Does the public have the resources or even the
interest to make sure their rights are not being
infringed upon?
Newspapers, by and large, have long accepted the Eai
responsibility of demanding access to public records and
judicial proceedings and, when denied or stonewalled, often
filed suit to ensure the information reached the public.
Are you curious about how much your city spends on cell
phones? How about the personnel record of a police officer
The charged with abusive
Bk P behavior? Are you interested
Back Pa e to know how much the
By Earl Maucker school board spends on
legal expenses? Travel?

e government who will?

rl M

Administrative costs?
If the newspapers aren't around to fight for that information,
who will?
The bloggers? Please.
It's no secret that some tax-supported agencies and
municipalities want to control the way information comes out.
Many want it filtered or not made available at all -to protect
their own interests.
As an example, take the FEMA investigation we did a
few years ago. When we found out that FEMA was making
payments to Miami area residents for a hurricane that never
even hit there, we requested a list of all those receiving funds.
FEMA provided the amount of money each person received, but
no names or addresses.
We filed suit at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.
Ultimately, FEMA was forced to release addresses, confirming
our reporting that the federal government had distributed
millions in aid to people never touched by disaster.
Under the financial pressures newspaper companies find
themselves facing, can we really afford such costly litigation
In many cases, yes, we'll still pursue the issues in courts.

But smaller, less-significant cases likely never will be
pursued because of the costs involved.
"While we receive a great deal of public record
information that readers of the Sun Sentinel and
sunsentinel.com benefit from on a daily basis, I
think our readers and users would be surprised at the
amount of information our reporters must fight for,
and how often even a simple request becomes difficult
and takes weeks to fulfill," said Kathleen Pellegrino,
aucker our newsroom legal advisor.
"We often wonder what happens when members
of the public try to obtain records, especially when our own
trained information gatherers face this amount of difficulty."
Why is it so important?
Just remember the old adage you learned in grade school:
A democracy is a government that is by the people and for the
That means it is the people who are sovereign, not the
government. The people have the right to be informed of
the workings of their government, so that they can hold the
government accountable.
We, as citizens, pay the bills and the government works on
our behalf.
Public agencies, of course, are obligated to protect certain
information from release and the public records law has a large
number of exemptions.
But, in many cases, we're talking about basic, routine
information, which is becoming increasingly hard to access.
"But it is astounding and frustrating, having watched this
process for many years, to see the amount of energy invested in
what seems like delay tactics," Kathleen said.
And secrecy, as we know, can lead to serious misbehavior by
government officials.
All of this will require the news organizations to be more
selective in the challenges we make, and the suits we may file.
We may have to unite more often with other news organizations
in those efforts.
And, we hope the public will exercise their rights to
information and when there are struggles, bring them to our
attention so we can make the issue public.

Earl aucker is the editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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