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Most public-records bills die at end of Florida legislative session

By The Associated Press

03.25.02

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Open-government advocates failed to keep some public-records bills from reaching the governor's desk, but they scored a victory with a measure that could make it more difficult for lawmakers to close records in the future.

In all, 23 open-government bills were passed by the Legislature, including 10 that close access to public records, according to Barbara Petersen, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation.

That's a fraction of the 153 open-government bills filed, and Petersen said none of the exemptions were on her organization's list of bills they opposed.

"None of the really awful ones passed ... 153 bills is a phenomenal number, but if we look at it in terms of what could have happened, it wasn't so bad," she said.

Among bills that did pass was a proposed constitutional amendment that would require lawmakers to pass records exemptions by a two-thirds vote. They now only need a majority.

Another would make it a crime to obtain public records to help commit another crime.

"To me it's the right approach — let's focus on the misuse of information," Petersen said.

Among other bills that passed were measures that would keep secret the identity of women who legally abandon their babies, close access to government building blueprints and keep the public from obtaining other people's Social Security numbers.

Several bills the First Amendment Foundation was fighting died when the legislative session ended March 22, including measures that would have blocked access to doctors' reports about their mistakes, closed public utility records and sealed records about complaints filed with universities if an investigation found they were unwarranted.

"I feel relieved," Petersen said. "I was watching ... up until the very last second."

Related

Florida newspapers unite to stress need for open government
More than two dozen papers run editorials as part of effort to keep Legislature from blocking public access to information.  03.11.02

Open-government advocates wary of states' records proposals
Civil libertarians worry efforts to increase security may hinder public's ability to monitor government.  02.06.02

Florida Senate panel approves secret security meetings
Move would allow committee to discuss anti-terrorism legislation behind closed doors, seal records from such proceedings.  10.25.01

A matter of balance: Secrecy doesn't guarantee security
By Ken Paulson Using the terrorist attacks as justification for this new wave of efforts to close public records would be too easy — and misleading.  03.24.02

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