Assault Begins on State FOI Laws: Florida SPJ Issues National Call for Help
Even as Congress passes sweeping anti-terrorism legislation that grants the federal government broader police powers, state legislatures are beginning to re-assess laws dealing with open records.
In Florida in particular, lawmakers are poised to do damage to that state’s landmark freedom of information laws. The legislature is meeting in special session to deal with budget issues and has expanded the scope of the session to address issues dealing with terrorism, security and public information.
The South Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has issued a call to all journalists to contact legislative leaders and Gov. Jeb Bush in an attempt to hold back the tide of records closure.
(See contact points below.)
The appeal has come from SPJ’s South Florida and Mid-Florida pro chapters, which have been working closely with the Florida First Amendment Foundation and other FOI advocates.
While the status of specific bills changes rapidly, here are some of the key points:
**At least a dozen measures dealing with “Public Records/Acts of Terrorism” have been introduced. These bills, numbers S58-S70, would expand exemptions in Florida’s public records law to allow more information to be withheld from the public in the name of security from terrorism.
The sponsors of those bills are Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville and Sen. Rod Smith of Gainesville. (Their legislative phone numbers and e-mails are listed below.)
**The Senate has amended its own rules to allow closed meetings to “discuss measures to prevent possible acts of espionage, sabotage, attack and other acts of terrorism.” (Rule 1.43, 1.44) This apparently allows the Senate to discuss legislation in secret, as well as physical security measures designed to protect the safety of lawmakers and citizens in the Capitol.
**The Senate is reported to be considering another rule to make any work product of a closed session confidential, including votes on legislation.
For updated online information on bills, visit: www.leg.state.fl.us
Once there, click on the “Session” tab, then select “2001 B” to get to the list of bills. The Web site also has links to all legislators’ addresses and phone numbers through the ironically named “Online Sunshine” site.
Here are the key players and their contact points:
President of the Senate
Rep. Tom Feeney
Speaker of the House
Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite
(co-sponsor of bills)
Sen. Rod Smith
(co-sponsor of bills)
More legislative contacts:
Rep Mike Fasano
House Majority Leader
Senate Rules Committee
Chair: Senator Tom Lee
Senate Government Oversight and Productivity Committee
Chair: Sen. Rudy Garcia
For messages encouraging a veto:
Gov. Jeb Bush
Among those who have expressed concerns about these laws and could use some encouragement:
Sen. Kendrick Meek
Sen. J. Alex Villalobos
For more information, please contact these Florida SPJ Chapter leaders:
Bill HirschmanFOI Chair, South Florida Pro
E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael McQueenPresident, South Florida Pro
Allen FettersPresident, Mid-Florida Pro
Barbara PetersenFlorida First Amendment Found.
Bill ChamberlinBrechner Center for FOI
University of Florida
SPJ FOI ALERT SUBSCRIPTION NOTE: To subscribe to the Society of Professional Journalists FOI Alert, contact SPJ at email@example.com or call 317/927-8000. In your message, provide your name, organization, mailing address, e-mail address, phone number and fax number. There is no fee. We strongly encourage the wide dissemination and publication of these alerts in other forums.
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nation's largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.