Posts Tagged ‘Sunshine Laws’

Public records bill barely gets out of first committee

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

A bill that would give judges discretion to award attorney fees in public records lawsuits squeaked out of its first review panel Tuesday.
The Senate’s Governmental Oversight and Accountability cleared the bill (SB 80) by a 4-3 vote. It goes next to the Community Affairs Committee.
The measure changes the word “shall” to “may” regarding courts awarding legal fees when an “agency (has) unlawfully refused to permit a public record … to be inspected or copied.”
It would also require a “complainant (to) provide written notice of the public records request to the agency’s custodian of public records at least 5 business days before” suing. Records requests are not normally mandated to be in writing.
The idea is to cut down on the number of “frivolous” lawsuits at taxpayer expense by eliminating guaranteed attorney fees in cases where public officials made an honest mistake, say bill advocates, including the Florida League of Cities.
Open government watchdogs, such as the First Amendment Foundation, have countered that the bill would instead chill legitimate actions against local governments and state agencies that unreasonably refuse to respond to record requests.
Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican and lawyer who is sponsoring the proposal, backed a version of the bill last session when he was a state representative. It passed the Senate unanimously but died in the House.
A House companion (HB 163) would require judges to make specific findings before they can award attorney fees in public records lawsuits.
It would require a judge to determine that a public agency “unlawfully refused to permit a public record to be inspected or copied” and that the complainant “provided written notice identifying the public record request to the agency’s custodian … at least five business days before filing the civil action.”
That bill also says attorney fees can’t be awarded if the court finds “the request to inspect or copy the public record was made primarily to harass the

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Bob Rommel bill would shield college presidential searches from Sunshine Laws

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

A new bill introduced by state Rep. Bob Rommel would keep secret the identities of candidates for the presidencies and other top executive positions of Florida’s state colleges and universities through most of the selection process.
House Bill 351, introduced by the Naples Republican Monday,  would create exemptions in Florida’s open records and open meetings laws, keeping secret “personal identifying information” of applicant for president, provost, or dean of a state university or a Florida College System college; and would waive any public meeting requirements for meetings held by public bodies meeting to identify or vet such candidates, including interviews.
Ultimately, the names of the finalists would be released, before a final vote can be taken on the hiring, in Rommel’s bill. But there is no clear definition of how those finalists would be determined.
Rommel was not immediately available Monday to discuss his proposal.
College and university boards of trustees and their executive search consultants have often complained over the years that the openness of Florida’s Sunshine Laws could prevent qualified candidates at other colleges and universities from even bothering to apply. And that concern shows up in the bill’s language, citing a “chilling effect” that Florida’s Sunshine Laws can have on the applicant pool.
“Many, if not most, applicants for such a position are currently employed at another job at the time they apply and could jeopardize their current positions if it were to become known that they were seeking employment elsewhere. These exemptions from public records and public meeting requirements are needed to ensure that such a search committee can avail itself of the most experienced and desirable pool of qualified applicants,” it states in one section.
But at the same time, Florida’s boards often have pursued a strategy not followed by many other states, of hiring former politicians with little or no backgrounds in academia to run the

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Florida House sues over Visit Florida-Pitbull deal documents

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued PDR Productions Inc. Tuesday for a judge’s permission to publicly release documents involved in the Visit Florida deal used to hire Miami rapper Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.
At issue is Corcoran’s concern that Visit Florida deals — done increasingly in secret — may require deeper scrutiny in how it’s spending state money. He wants the Florida House of Representatives Appropriations Committee to hold hearings, starting with a look at the PDR contract.
But Visit Florida turned over the PDR contract only with explicit statements from the company that the firm believes its entire contents are “trade secrets” which must be shielded from Florida Sunshine Laws.
The company threatened to sue House staff members or others if anything was publicly disclosed.
In his 10-page lawsuit filed in his capacity as Speaker of the House Tuesday in Circuit Court for Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee, Corcoran argued that there are no trade secrets in the contract, or if there are their importance is far outweighed by the Florida Legislature’s mandates to watch spending. And Corcoran stated that there is no way the house committee can hold a hearing on a secret document. He also argued that the contract, as administered by the Florida Division of Tourism Marketing, is subject to Florida’s Sunshine Laws, which require public disclosure.
Corcoran asked the court to take a look at the contract, hold an immediate hearing, and then declare that it contains no trade secrets, allowing the house committee to release it and discuss its terms in open session in this year’s Legislative Session.
Miami lawyer Sandra Navarro-Garcia, the registered agent for PDR Productions, was not immediately available Tuesday afternoon to comment on the suit or the company’s response.
Neither Visit Florida nor PDR has disclosed even how much the company was paid, or the full responsibilities Pitbull agreed to in the contract.
The

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Bill again targets attorney fees in public records cases

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

A bill that would give judges the discretion to award attorney fees in public records lawsuits was refiled Wednesday in the Florida Legislature.
New state Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican and lawyer, is again behind the legislation (SB 80). He backed a version of the bill last session as a state representative. It passed the Senate unanimously but died in the House.
The measure changes the word “shall” to “may” regarding courts awarding legal fees when an “agency (has) unlawfully refused to permit a public record … to be inspected or copied.”
It would also require a “complainant (to) provide written notice of the public records request to the agency’s custodian of public records at least 5 business days before” suing. Records requests are not normally mandated to be in writing.
The idea is to cut down on the number of “frivolous” lawsuits at taxpayer expense by eliminating guaranteed attorney fees in cases where public officials made an honest mistake, bill advocates have said, including the Florida League of Cities.
Open government watchdogs, such as the First Amendment Foundation, have countered that the bill would instead affect legitimate actions against local governments and state agencies that unreasonably refuse to respond to record requests.
 
The post Bill again targets attorney fees in public records cases appeared first on Florida Politics.

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Jac Wilder VerSteeg: West Palm’s version of Wikileaks

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Open government sustained a serious setback this month. For this, you can “thank” the city of West Palm Beach, along with West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and spokesman Elliot Cohen.
As reported extensively in The Palm Beach Post, the city – in response to public records requests – posted information online that revealed the names of several undercover officers, police informants and people who are the subjects of continuing criminal investigations. The posts contained information about local and federal probes.
Edward Snowden and Wikileaks would be proud. Except in this case, the government isn’t the victim of a whistleblower. The government did this damage to itself.
How did it happen? Well, there’s one benign explanation and one not-so-benign explanation.
West Palm has had a series of shoot-out murders in its northern section. It turned out that surveillance cameras deployed in the high-crime area weren’t working properly. Reporters seeking information about the crimes and cameras filed public records requests. They were trying to find out, for one thing, who was responsible for the failed cameras.
Instead of checking the records and police emails for sensitive information, city spokesman Cohen blasted all of it onto the Web under the heading “Transparency.” The blowback has been embarrassing and vicious, with the police union correctly demanding Cohen’s head.
Mayor Muoio has claimed the original impulse was her idea. She said she earlier had floated the idea of adopting a policy in all cases of posting for all to see the names of those who requested public records and then the documents they requested.
Sounds like a good idea that furthers government openness, right?
But reporters suspect a not-so-benign motive. They think Muoio and Cohen were trying to undermine reporters working to publish scoops. Publishing the public records request would alert other members of the media; publishing the requested documents would eliminate

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