Florida journalism organizations urge state to reconsider HB1021
Dear Rep. Steube,
We are writing this letter to urge you to reconsider HB1021.
Florida has some of the best public records laws on the books, but the state provides no way to enforce said laws — except with lawsuits. It would be unfair not to cover the court costs and take away an attorney’s fee when an agency is found at fault and in violation of the state’s Sunshine Laws.
Currently the law does not allow citizens to seek awards for damages, which effectively prevents almost all frivolous lawsuits. This legislation would further punish the 99 percent of public requestors for the misdeeds of a few bad apples.
A law is only as strong as its enforcement and this legislation would weaken a requestor’s only method of enforcement. While this legislation may very well prevent frivolous lawsuits it would most certainly prevent valid ones as well.
The best way to prevent corruption in government is with openness and transparency. If requestors are less willing to use lawsuits to enforce Florida’s laws they’ll be entirely dependent on the good will of an agency. Most requestors do not have the financial means to gamble away on a lawsuit.
Instead of HB1021 Florida we urge you to look for other methods of enforcement such as forming an office, or appointing an officer, to oversee compliance with the Sunshine Laws. That would not only prevent frivolous lawsuits, but could also resolve valid disputes before they escalate into a lawsuit.
Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Chapter
Florida Press Club
National Association of Hispanic Journalists, South Florida