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Senate Committee Reviews Public Records Exemption for DFS Service Requests

Senate Committee Reviews Public Records Exemption for DFS Service Requests

The Banking & Insurance Committee of the Florida Senate has completed its review of a public records exemption for information submitted to the Department of Financial Services or Office of Insurance Regulation in connection with consumer service requests.  The exemption applies to information submitted by consumers to the DFS’ Division of Consumer Services and to the Division of Workers’ Compensation.  Consumers provide the information in connection with service requests, which also are commonly referred to as consumer complaints.

Florida’s public records laws are among the broadest in the country.  Information in the hands of state government generally is available to any party requesting it.  However, the legislature has the authority to enact exemptions from the public records laws when necessary to protect consumers or businesses from harms that might be associated with public dissemination of sensitive information.  Under Florida law, these public records exemptions have automatic expirations and must be reviewed by the legislature periodically to determine whether to reenact them or let them expire.

The Senate Banking & Insurance Committee reviewed a law that exempts consumers’ personal financial and health information from disclosure.  Consumers sometimes submit this information when presenting service requests to the Department of Financial Services.  Protecting this information from dissemination helps guard against identity theft, and also protects individuals in certain unique capacities (for example, witnesses or victims) from retaliation or other adverse consequences of being named in service requests.  The exemption does not, however, prohibit disclosure of the name and address of a person submitting a service request.

Based on the nature of the exemption tailored to prevent specific harms, the Banking & Insurance Committee recommends reenactment of the exemption.