In what was hailed as a big win for open government in Florida the legislative season ended with HB 1021 getting stuck in its last committee, effectively killing the legislation for this term.
An amended version of its companion bill in the Florida Senate, SB 1220, passed in the Senate.
Barbara Peterson, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said the legislation was “undoubtedly the worst bill I’ve seen in all my 25 plus years.” She further criticized HB 1021 and SB 1220 as just another thinly veiled attempt to severely weaken Florida’s public records laws.
According to the Florida Sunshine Coalition the bill would have made “the award of attorney’s fees discretionary even when a judge has made a finding that a public agency has wrongfully withheld public records from inspection.”
Currently if a government agency is found to be at fault that agency will be on the hook for the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.
“The attorney fee provision creates a level playing field for someone who can afford to pay for an attorney and those who cannot,” FSC said in a press release.
FSC believes that without a guaranteed penalty there is no incentive for the government to be transparent while also decreasing the number of challenges brought by citizens.
“Rather than reforming the public records law – a specious claim by the Florida League of Cities – these bills will essentially gut our right to access to government records,” FSC wrote.
Peterson expects the legislation to come up again in the future but also promised to be better prepared next time.