Oct. 11, 2013  

October Shine On – Monthly Chat with First Amendment Foundation

First Amendment FoundationIt’s time to shine again. Barbara Petersen with the Florida First Amendment Foundation is back! In September she addressed charges for digital items, like CD’s and whether or not agencies can charge for the redaction process, specifically the copying of paper. This month she talks about whether or not you need to show identification to attend public meetings and a recent bill passed in the Florida Legislature.

Let us know what you could use some help with, when it comes to the Florida Sunshine Laws. You can leave questions and comments below or send them to Lynn Walsh.

SPJ Florida: Do you need to show a form of identification to attend a public meeting?

Barbara Petersen: You should not have to provide identification in order to attend a public meeting.  Certainly, in today’s world government agencies have become more security-conscious, and you may have to go through some sort of security measures to enter a public building.  But showing proof of identity doesn’t make a public building more secure and to require proof of identity in order to attend a public meeting can have a chilling effect on those interested in participating in such meetings.  Note, though, that if you want to speak at a public meeting, you may be required to complete a speaker identification card – that’s perfectly acceptable and a common practice.

The same is true of a reporter attending a public meeting – a reporter may have to wear identification if allowed some special level of access not available to the general public.  For example, at the state capital, only reporters are allowed access to the press box, a special section of the visitor’s gallery.  Same is true of college football games – the press is given a level of access not available to the general public and will have to show and wear identification for the purpose of accessing the press box.  But if a reporter is attending – and reporting on – a public meeting that is open and accessible to the general public, I don’t believe a government agency can require the reporter to show and wear identification any more than it can require the same of a citizen attending the meeting.

SPJ Florida: What is FAF’s position on the transparency law passed by the Legislature making it clear contractors providing services on behalf of the government are subject to the Sunshine Laws?

Barbara Petersen: Vendors and Public Records:  Thank you, CFO Atwater!  I think the concerns raised by the lobbyists as reported in the FCIR article are overblown.  During the 2013 session, the Legislature passed a bill, CS/HB 1309, that in part, amended the public records law to make it clear that contractors providing services on behalf of government agencies are subject to the requirements of the public records law.

That’s not a “new” law as the lobbyist claims, but has been the case all along – private companies “acting on behalf of” a public agency are subject to Florida’s public records law.  What is new is the fact that the public records law now specifically states that every government agency contract for services “must include a provision that requires the contractor to comply with public records laws.”   This means that private companies providing services to a government agency under contract must comply with maintenance and retention requirements and, most importantly, can charge only those public record fees authorized by chapter 119.

That’s a really big deal, believe me, particularly as more government agencies are entering into contracts for the storage and maintenance of their public records.  Last summer, for example, a citizen was asked to pay over $3,000 to obtain a copy of a one-page public record – the agency had contracted with a private company to provide access to the agency’s records and that was the fee the company charged the agency.  Ridiculous.  Another important point:  under s. 119.0701, F.S., the contracting agency is responsible for ensuring its contractors comply with the public records law – that means if you have a beef with a contractor regarding access to its public records, you can go to the agency to enforce compliance.  This is an excellent provision and as CFO Atwater said, it will strengthen our constitutional right of access to government information and service to increase transparency.

Click here in case you missed last month’s chat.

Answers to these questions and many more, including questions about application of Florida’s open meetings law, can be found in the 2013 Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual, which is now available in both a print edition and electronically. Go to the First Amendment Foundation website and click on FAF Store for information on how to order the manual.

Barbara A. Petersen, President First Amendment Foundation

Barbara Petersen headshotA graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Florida State University College of Law, Barbara A. Petersen is president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation.  Before taking her current position in 1995, Petersen was staff attorney for the Joint Committee on Information Technology Resources of the Florida Legislature, where she worked exclusively on public records legislation and issues.  A passionate advocate of the public’s right to oversee its government, Petersen is the author of numerous reports and articles on open government issues.  She currently sits on the board of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, having served as its president and treasurer, and was recently appointed to the Integrity Florida board of directors.  Petersen served as chair of Florida’s Commission on Open Government Reform.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

… " /> … " />