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Home > SPJ News > SPJ Asks FOI Advocates to Join Fight Against Restrictive Florida Bills

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SPJ Asks FOI Advocates to Join Fight Against Restrictive Florida Bills

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
3/15/2002


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CONTACTS:
Al Cross, SPJ President, 502/875-5136 ext. 14 or across@mis.net
Gordon “Mac” McKerral, SPJ Secretary/Treasurer 813/873-8225 ext. 214 or mmckerral@bizjournals.com

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is encouraging freedom of information advocates to help fight a multitude of bills in the Florida Legislature that threaten to eliminate access to public records.

SPJ President Al Cross sent a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush earlier this week encouraging him to stop the wave of bills now before the Florida Legislature that seek to close records and meetings that now are available and open to the public.

In legislative action the week of March 10, the Senate governmental oversight committee approved 13 bills calling for exemptions to the Florida Sunshine Law.

Cross and other SPJ leaders are encouraging Society members and other freedom of information activists to write similar letters to the governor.

“Many states have responded to the events of Sept. 11 and the resulting war on terrorism with a number of ill-advised, willy-nilly measures that sacrifice the public interest in the name of security,” wrote Cross, a political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, “but I feel comfortable saying that none approaches the audacity of Florida. In your state, the desire to close records seems epidemic among legislators. I hope and pray that the virus has not spread to your office.”

Cross also encouraged the governor to consider each bill carefully, to preserve the public’s constitutional right to freedom of information, and to keep open records intact that will provide a means of public accountability for government officials.

The bills now before the Florida Legislature include exemptions for reports of doctors’ malpractice, public utility records, legislators’ home contact information, certain university and junior college records, workers’ compensation claimants, and even closing meetings between elected officials and companies making bids, proposals, and negotiating contracts.

“The legislative onslaught on open meetings and records in the state of Florida should be embarrassing to public officials, yet it is something they seem to relish,” said SPJ Secretary/Treasurer Gordan “Mac” McKerral, editor of the Business Journal Serving Greater Tampa Bay. “Florida is becoming the poster child for government operating in secret, and many state legislatures will take their cue from Florida. If the legislative leaders cannot exercise common sense when it comes to protecting the public’s right to know, then the governor should.”

Advocates wishing to write letters against the Florida bills should send letters to:
Gov. Jeb Bush
The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Attn: Hayden Dempsey, legislative director


The text of SPJ’s letter to Gov. Bush is as follows:

March 12, 2002

Gov. Jeb Bush
The Capitol
Tallahassee FL 32399
Attn: Hayden Dempsey, legislative director

Dear Gov. Bush:

I write as president of the nation’s oldest and most broadly based journalism organization, asking you to help rescue Florida’s reputation as one of the states most committed to sharing information with the public. Many bills moving through the legislature threaten to do precisely that.

Many states have responded to the events of Sept. 11 and the resulting war on terrorism with a number of ill-advised, willy-nilly measures that sacrifice the public interest in the name of security, but I feel comfortable saying without fear of contradiction that no state approaches the audacity of Florida. In your state, the desire to close meetings and records seems epidemic among legislators. I hope and pray that the virus has not spread to your office.

The depressing list of more than 120 Florida bills includes exemptions for accountants’ peer-review records, reports of doctors’ malpractice, public utility records, agency building plans, legislators’ home contact information, workers’ compensation claimants, procurement meetings, university health services, the Commission for Independent Education and more. Several were approved by a committee that revealed them shortly before its meeting, at which the chairman announced that the panel could spend only three minutes on each bill. And you think the legislature treats you roughly sometimes!

I urge you and your staff to carefully consider each bill that is moving and take appropriate action, up to and including vetoes, to preserve the public’s constitutional right to freedom of information. This right is necessary to hold you, the legislature and other public officials accountable. Journalists do that, but so does the public, and it is the public interest I write to preserve.

More than 225 years after the Declaration of Independence, governments still derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. The father of the Constitution, James Madison, said that consent must be informed, or our democracy is but a farce. Don’t let them say that about Florida.

Sincerely,
Al Cross
President, Society of Professional Journalists

Political writer and columnist, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal


-END-

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