After lost emails flap, public records bill passes
BY GARY FINEOUT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s next governor and other statewide elected officials will have to preserve and make public any documents and emails they send between their election and the time they are officially sworn into office.
The Florida Legislature has unanimously passed a bill that was sparked by the embarrassing deletion of emails sent by Gov. Rick Scott and members of his transition team.
Scott strongly supported the bill and is expected to sign it into law.
“We’re really pleased to see passage of this bill,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. “We were told that this was on the governor’s priority list for the 2012 session and are both appreciative and encouraged by Gov. Scott’s support.”
The bill (HB 1305) applies to the governor, lieutenant governor, the attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner.
The GOP-controlled Legislature passed the legislation nearly seven months after Scott ordered an investigation into how and why emails he wrote before he became governor were deleted.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Wednesday that the investigation is still ongoing.
While the investigation has yet to wrap up, documents released so far showed that emails from both an iPad and smartphone used by the governor were lost.
Transition records are generally understood to be public records, but a review of transition records by The Associated Press has shown a wide disparity in how the records – including emails – by both the governor’s office and the offices of top Cabinet officials are collected and stored. Some records are turned over to state archives, but others for example, have wound up in the basement of Capitol offices.
The Scott transition team used a private company to handle its email accounts. Former Gov. Charlie Crist’s transition team used state computers to handle its email accounts, although some members of the team were never asked to turn over any emails from their personal email accounts.
Brian Burgess, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor “wholeheartedly supports” the bill because it “clarifies state law relating to transition records for incoming elected officials, a benefit he did not have when he was elected.”
Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, contended that the “the problem was current law didn’t specifically address officers who had recently been elected into office.”
Scott widely used email on the campaign trail and after he was elected, but then he stopped for the first eight months of his administration.
The private company that handled emails for Scott’s transition team shut down most of the accounts in early 2011 right after Scott was sworn into office. Members of the transition team were warned ahead of time that the accounts would be shut down but no one tried to preserve the emails before that happened.
The St. Petersburg Times last August reported that the emails were missing. That prompted Scott to order FDLE to investigate the deletion of the transition emails and see whether or not they could be retrieved from Rackspace, the Texas company that handled the accounts.
The Associated Press reported that some of the emails that were finally retrieved during the summer showed that former Gov. Jeb Bush had urged Scott prior to his swearing-in to push for universal private school vouchers, save money by releasing elderly prisoners and look at taxing online sales as part of a swap to lower other taxes.
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