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Editorial: Open government legislation in Florida Legislature good step, but does not go far enough

Editorial: Open government legislation in Florida Legislature good step, but does not go far enough

Legislation pending in the Florida Legislature helps clarify responsibilities of some, though not all elected officials

Legislation pending in the Florida Legislature goes a long way in establishing when elected officials must comply with the state’s open meetings and public records laws.

But, at least for the current session of the Legislature, the improvements don’t go far enough.

As initially introduced by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Destin, Senate Bill 1464 required that all “officials-elect” from City Council members to the governor abide by open meetings laws and maintain all documents and correspondence for public inspection from the time their elections are certified rather than from the time they actually take office.

During the transition of Gov. Rick Scott from election to his inauguration, there seemed to be some lack of clarity as to the transitional records of his administration and some emails during that time were deleted and, therefore, not made available to the public. The new law was designed to specify that all such records are public during the transitional period for all elected officials.

However, the bill was amended in committee and defined “officials-elect” subject to the public records laws as only the governor and members of the Cabinet.

In regard to other elected officials, the bill specified what had been legal opinion for four decades that such officials are subject to open meetings laws from the time of their elections and before they actually take office.

The First Amendment Foundation, which monitors the state’s Sunshine Laws and advocates for more open government, believes that because local elected officials are subject to open meetings laws they are also subject to public records laws from the time they are elected.

But, the amended legislation, doesn’t specify that requirement.

Still, the First Amendment Foundation has accepted the bill as now written as possibly the best legislation on the issue possible during this session of the Legislature.

It does clarify some issues, particularly regarding public records requirements for the governor and members of the Cabinet and does specify that all elected officials are subject to open meetings laws from the time they are elected. The lack of clarity on the issue of all elected officials having to comply with public records requirements, however, is troubling.

Senate Bill 1464 and its companion, House Bill 1305, seem headed toward legislative approval and the governor would be smart to sign the bill into law.

And, we would hope that all elected officials at all levels will abide by public records laws from their time of election even if the law is not clear that they should do so. If that becomes an issue and such documents are withheld, the Legislature must revisit the issue and clarify under law what seems to be common sense in the public good.