Op-Ed: All of Florida’s lawmakers owe the public a promise to uphold

Sign the “Open Government Pledge”

Sunshine Week is a good time for lawmakers to recommit themselves to open government.

When it comes to defending the Florida Constitution, state legislators are on the front lines. In fact, they swear in their oaths of office to “support, protect and defend” the state constitution.

That document includes an amendment declaring that all government records and meetings in Florida are open to the public unless specifically closed by the Legislature. In December, the University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information mailed letters to all 160 state senators and representatives, inviting them to sign a pledge to uphold this constitutional right.

Who could say no to that? About 150 legislators, that’s who. So far, only 10 have signed the pledge, a pathetic response rate.

The Legislature’s two top leaders, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, haven’t signed. The legislator in line to succeed Cannon in 2012, Republican Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel, is one of the few who have signed the pledge. Why not Weatherford’s successor in 2014, Republican Chris Dorworth of Lake Mary?

Another Central Florida legislator, freshman Republican Jason Brodeur of Sanford, has signed the pledge. Good for him. He needs more company from other first-year members — many of whom were swept into office by voters wary of government power.

We realize elected officials get lots of mail, and it’s possible some might have overlooked the Brechner Center’s letter. Lucky for them, they can get a copy of the pledge online by going to the center’s website at brechner.org. and clicking on “Open Government Pledge.” We’ll check back from time to time and see whether legislators, particularly those representing Central Florida, have found a moment to reaffirm their commitment to open government. This week — Sunshine Week — is perfect timing as media outlets across the country spotlight the importance of open government.

Lest readers conclude that Florida lawmakers just don’t like to be tied down by commitments to outside groups, consider that more than 40 state senators and representatives have signed a no-tax-hike-under-any-circumstances pledge from Americans for Tax Reform. That includes Haridopolos and Cannon.

Gov. Rick Scott also has signed ATR’s pledge, which is so absolute that even the most ridiculous tax loophole (ostrich feed, anyone?) can’t be closed because it might constitute a tax increase.

Does the governor place a higher priority on ruling out tax increases than upholding Florida’s constitutional right to open government? Maybe. Since taking office in January, Scott has talked a good game. One of his first executive orders reaffirmed his commitment to the state’s Office of Open Government.

But talk is cheap. Since then, the governor’s restricted media access to what should have been open events, delayed release of public records and started charging the public for making copies of records.

We don’t necessarily begrudge the governor for deciding to charge for records. But the reason he’s doing it — a flood of requests from the media and citizens — is partly due to his order that all agencies reporting to him had to funnel public-records requests through the governor’s office. No wonder his office is buried.

If Scott thinks open access to government meetings and records is only important to journalists, he’s dead wrong. It’s essential for all Floridians to hold accountable the leaders they elect and the government they pay for with their hard-earned tax dollars.

How many Sunshine State leaders really believe in government in the sunshine? Let’s see who signs the pledge and who walks the open-government talk.