Getting public records could be easier under bill developed by Crist panel
Posted: 7:55 p.m. Monday, March 8, 2010
TALLAHASSEE — Open government advocates and a state senator who’s had her own problems obtaining public records are backing a sweeping bill making it easier for people to get government records.
The measure (SB 1598, HB 1211) is the product of Gov. Charlie Crist’s Commission on Open Government, which has spent three years coming up with the recommendations, and will be considered Tuesday by the Senate Community Affairs Committee.
If lawmakers approve the “Open Government Act,” it would rank among the state’s most significant public records reforms, said Florida First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen, who chaired the panel.
The bill would:
•Require government officials to get training in open records and meetings.
•Bar agencies from charging for copies of records that take less than 30 minutes to duplicate.
•Prohibit agencies from charging for redaction of information that is personal in nature and exempt from public records laws and prohibit charging for any redaction fees of any records after Jan. 1, 2013.
•Require that all new exemptions be reviewed every 10 years after the initial five-year-review currently required by state law.
•Set uniform penalties, and attorneys’ fees, for public records violations.
•Give circuit judges jurisdiction to issue injunctions to enforce open records laws.
Sen. Paula Dockery, the bill’s sponsor who also sat on the panel, says she’s optimistic that lawmakers will heed the public’s demands for more transparency in government and approve the bill.
Dockery, who last year complained about the state Department of Transportation’s handling of her public records request for e-mails pertaining to a controversial Central Florida commuter rail project known as “SunRail,” said today, “In an election year, it would make good political sense that we start passing some bills that make the public happy. This bill would go a long way toward restoring public’s trust, but that may be wishful thinking on my part.”
In Dockery’s dispute with the transportation department, a few of the e-mails she eventually received had subject headings such as “Pancakes” and “French Toast,” spurring an investigation by Crist’s inspector general into whether the transportation secretary was trying to hide the purpose of the mail. The investigation found no wrongdoing by any DOT staff.
“Hopefully what we do will have a positive impact on all levels of government and their ability to provide in a timely fashion the records that are being requested and at a cost that’s not prohibitive,” said Dockery, a Lakeland Republican who is running in the GOP primary for governor against Attorney General Bill McCollum.