Barbara A. Petersen, President
First Amendment Foundation
2014 Legislative Session
(1) SB 718 and HB 985, Public Meetings/Notice: This legislation amends Florida’s Sunshine Law to require that the required meeting notice include a specific description of all issues to be considered by a board or commission, and prohibits action on any issue not included in the notice unless the issue concerns “an impending public health, safety, welfare, or other emergency” that requires immediate action and consideration of the issue is approved by a super majority of the members of the board or commission. Amends s. 286.011(1), F.S.
Sponsors: Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz); Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona)
- I hope that what’s good about this bill is obvious to everyone – it will ensure that the public has full and effective notice of all issues that a sunshine body intends to take action on before the action is taken.
(2) HB 1103 and SB 1270, Economic Incentive Programs: Requires the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to (1) contract with an independent third party to annually verify that those businesses receiving economic development incentives satisfy the requirements of the incentive agreement; and (2) publish on its website the results of the independent audit within 48 hours of receiving the results. Stipulates that any information deemed confidential and exempt under certain specified provisions in s. 288.075, F.S., which is published or otherwise disclosed by DEO is no longer confidential and exempt. Amends ss. 288.075 and 288.076, F.S.
Sponsors: Rep. José Javier Rodriguez (D-Miami); Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood)
- There’s too much secrecy surrounding economic incentive programs, and this bill will ensure that tax payer dollars and resources are wisely spent. This legislation will allow for more transparency and accountability in the economic incentives programs.
(3) HB 1151 and SB 1648, Public Records & Meetings: This legislation makes major changes to chapter 119, Florida’s public records law, including:
- Amends s. 119.01 prohibiting an agency from paying dues with public funds to any organization unless certain records of the organization are open for inspection and copying, including all financial, business, and membership records pertaining to the agency paying dues, and all other records that the organization shares publicly or with its members.
- Amends s. 119.011 to include definitions of “confidential and exempt” and “exempt.”
- Amends s. 119.07(1), codifying case law by stipulating that an agency can require that a public record request be made in writing only if there is a specific statute requiring that
requests be made in writing, and requiring the custodian provide the requestor with the statutory citation.
- Amends the extensive use fee provision in s. 119.071(4)(d), stipulating that the cost of clerical or supervisory assistance can be no greater than the hourly rate, less benefits, of the lowest paid person capable of performing the task.
- Amends s. 119.0701, relating to contracts between a public agency and a contractor, to require contractors to notify the public agency (1) before denying a request to inspect or copy public records held by the contractor and (2) if the contractor is going to be sued for failure to comply with the public records law.
- Creates s. 119.0702, requiring public records law training of all agency employees who deal with public record requests.
- Amends s. 119.12 relating to the recovery of attorney fees and court costs to
- allow recovery of such fees and costs incurred in litigating the entitlement to recover such fees; and
- stipulate that when suing a public agency for enforcement of the public records law and seeking attorney fees, notice to the Department of Financial Services is not required.
- Amends s. 286.011, F.S., to stipulate that when suing a public agency for enforcement of the open meetings law and seeking attorney fees, notice to the Department of Financial Services is not required.
Sponsors: Rep. Dave Hood (R-Daytona Beach); S. Governmental Oversight Committee
- If this bill passes, it will be the most significant reform to Florida’s public records law since the mid-90s. And I think it will pass – it’s one of Senate President Gaetz’s priorities, so there might be some horse trading before session is over, but I think we’ll see at least some of the more major provisions enacted into law. Note, please, that HB 1151 differs significantly from the Senate version. I’m told that the House bill will be amended to conform to SB 1648.
(4) HB 1153 and SB 1194, Citizen and Direct Support Organizations: In pertinent part, creates s. 20.058, F.S., making various changes to the reporting requirements of citizen support and direct-support organizations and the agencies and institutions such organizations support, including:
- Requires citizen support and direct-support organizations created pursuant to law or executive order to annually submit the following information to the appropriate agency: (1) the name, mailing address, telephone number and web address of the organization; (2) the statutory authority or executive order creating the organization; (3) a brief description of the organization’s mission and the results obtained; (4) a brief description of the organization’s plans for the next three fiscal years; and (5) a copy of the organization’s code of ethics; (6) a copy of the organizations most recent Form 990. Each organization must also report (7) the amount and source of revenue generated or projected; (8) the amounts and purposes of expenditures or projected expenditures, including lobbying and travel and entertainment expenses; (9) the value of capital improvements made to state property funded by the organization; and (10) the names and compensation of all officers, directors, employees, and independent contractors.
- Requires each agency receiving information from such organizations to post that information on the agency’s website, and include a link to the organization’s website.
- Stipulates that all contracts between a citizen support organization or a direct-support organization are contingent upon the submission and posting of the required information.
Sponsors: Rep. Bill Hager (R-Boca Raton); S. Governmental Oversight Committee
- Virtually all DSO records are exempt from public disclosure, so anything that brings more transparency and accountability to these sometimes powerful organizations is a very positive step forward. Rep. Michele Rehwinkel-Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) has been very vocal in her concerns regarding the secrecy of donors to university DSOs. This good legislation should alleviate at least some of her – and our – concerns regarding the cloak of secrecy.
(5) HB 1375 and SB 1610, Federal RESTORE Act: Stipulates that the process by which a county or an entity created by the state appropriates funds received through the federal RESTORE Act for restoring gulf coast states is subject to Florida’s open government laws. Requires counties receiving RESTORE Act funds to post each proposed appropriation of funds received under the act as a line item on its website at least 30 days before the meeting during which action on the proposal will be taken. Amends s. 377.43, F.S.
Sponsors: Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Coral Springs); Sen. Greg Evers (R-Pensacola)
- The most important piece of this legislation is the requirement that proposed appropriations of RESTORE Act funds be posted as a line item on county websites 30 days before action on the appropriation will be taken, thus ensuring transparency and public oversight.
(1) HB 135 and SB 728, Exemption/University President Searches: Creates a public record exemption for information identifying applicants for president, provost or dean of a state university or college. Also creates an exemption for meetings held for the purpose of identifying or vetting such applicants, stipulating that the exemption does not apply to those meetings held for the purpose of establishing qualifications or determining compensation except for those portions of such meetings that would disclose personal identifying information of an applicant or potential applicant which shall be closed to the public. Meetings held after a final group of applicants has been selected held for the purpose of making a final selection will be open and the names of the final group of applicants will be subject to disclosure at least 21 days before the meeting at which the finalist will be selected. Creates s. 1004.097, F.S.
Sponsors: Rep. Dave Kerner (D-Palm Springs); Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla)
- According to the constitutionally-required statement of public necessity, qualified candidates are hesitant to apply for these positions for fear of losing their current positions. Really? Florida State University would have fired Eric Barron if it knew he was considering a job at Penn State? More likely, FSU would have scrambled to find the funds to make a competitive offer and entice him to stay in Tallahassee. This is
the Mount Everest of Slippery Slopes – the justification could apply to every government agency in the state of Florida, from cities seeking a new city manager to a school board looking for a new attorney. It also presumes that those who are currently in these positions – all of them hired in the Sunshine – aren’t the best they could be.
(2) HB 421 and SB 538, Exemption/Email Addresses – Tax Collectors: Creates a public record exemption for a taxpayer’s email address held by a tax collector for the purposes of sending tax notices or obtaining the taxpayer’s consent to send tax notices. Stipulates that email addresses provided by a taxpayer to the tax collector for any other purpose is subject to disclosure under the public records law. Creates s 197.3225, F.S. Companion to SB 538.
Sponsors: Rep. Ed Hooper (R-Clearwater); Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater)
- This legislation is a nightmare waiting to happen, frankly – only those emails obtained by a tax collector for the purpose of sending tax notices will be exempt from public disclosure. This means that if a request is made for all email correspondence sent or received by the tax collector over a certain period of time, for example, each of those emails will require review to determine how the email address of the sender was obtained. Undoubtedly, this will cause increased delays and costs associated with access to public record emails. Slippery slope? This one’s a sinkhole of enormous proportion.
(3) HB 481 and SB 1356, Exemption/Voter DOBs: Creates a public record exemption for the dates of birth of registered voters and voter registration applicants obtained for the purpose of voter registration. Amends s. 97.0585, F.S.
Sponsors: Rep. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa); Sen. Greg Evers (R-Pensacola)
- Dates of birth are ubiquitous, available not only in other public records but also on the Internet, and it doesn’t make any sense to exempt DOBs in voter registration records. The statement of public necessity claims DOBs are “personal, sensitive information” that could be used to commit identity theft. In fact, DOBs are important in verifying a voter’s identity and have been used by the Florida media to root out voter fraud in local elections where there may be multiple voters with the same name.
(4) HB 1083 and SB 1218, Exemption/Surveillance Videos: Creates a public record exemption for surveillance recordings created to monitor activities occurring inside or outside of public buildings or on public property held by community development districts. Creates s. 190.0121, F.S.
Sponsors: Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami); Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg)
- This exemption has all sorts of problems, starting with the seriously-flawed statement of public necessity which is based on mere speculation rather than fact. The legislation confers a right to privacy that simply doesn’t exist – our laws are very clear the public’s constitutional right of access should not be based on speculation and a faulty claim of privacy. We’d like to know what’s behind this one.
(5) HB 1167 and SB 1240, Exemption/Financial Statements: Under current law, financial statements provided to an agency in order to prequalify for bidding or participating in a competitive solicitation are exempt from public disclosure. HB 1167 expands the exemption to protect financial statements reflecting financial activities, including balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements provided in response to a competitive solicitation or other public procurement. Expands s. 119.071(1)(c), F.S. Companion to SB 1240.
Sponsors: Rep. MaryLynn Magar (R-Hobe Sound); Sen. Gwen Margolis (D-Miami)
- This is very similar to legislation filed last year, and although a bit narrower, the proposed exemption is extremely problematic. The justification for disclosure of financial statements of qualified bidders responding to an invitation to bid or a request for proposals is based on the sound principle that the public must be afforded the opportunity for oversight and accountability, to be assured that a qualified bidder has the financial wherewithal to carry through on the project. What doesn’t make sense is the assertion that without this exemption, private vendors will be less likely to respond to a competitive solicitation, thus reducing the “largest possible pool” of qualified bidders. Tonterías. In fact, it would seem that our state is a haven for private vendors – CFO Jeff Atwater estimated “the total contract expenditure for Florida’s 2011-12 budget cycle at $50.4 billion – 72 percent of the budget.” [Mary Ellen Klas, “Cashing in on State Contracts Becomes Growth Industry,” The Miami Herald, Feb. 9, 2013 (http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/09/3226029/cashing-in-on-state-contracts.html]
If you’d like additional information about any of the bills included in this report please call Barbara Petersen at 800/337-3518. And check our website, http://floridafaf.org, for copies of bill letters to various sponsors and our most recent legislative Reports.