BY MIKE SCHNEIDER
ORLANDO, Fla. – Advocates of Florida’s open government laws should focus on the rights of speakers to have their voices heard at public meetings and push to open up the state’s process of making laws to further scrutiny, one of the state’s top defenders of government transparency said Monday.
Too often in the past year citizens have been denied the right to speak at public hearings before a vote and state lawmakers have passed measures that haven’t been properly vetted, said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation at a forum commemorating Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of the open government laws.
Florida has one of the nation’s most liberal open government laws. In Florida, anything made or received by a government agency in connection with official business is considered a public record. The state’s public record law is a constitutional right and exemptions can only be made by the Florida Legislature.
In the past year, though, there have been several instances where state lawmakers in Tallahassee limited the number of speakers at public hearings and in some cases only listened to speakers after taking a vote.
“That’s not how this is supposed to work,” said Petersen before attorneys, reporters and open government advocates at the forum held at the University of Central Florida. “We have to take this on.”
Petersen also objected to lawmakers’ trying to pass measures by inserting language into the must-pass budget rather than having it go through the usual vetting process in legislative committees.
“There is no debate, so you have no clue what the problems are,” she said.