Friday, December 25, 2015

New bills in Florida Legislature could harm public records lawsuits

Posted By on Fri, Dec 25, 2015 at 11:28 AM

  • Photo by Christian Schnettelker via Flickr
Two bills introduced in the Florida Legislature change one word in the state's public records law, but it's an edit that could make it harder to file lawsuits in records cases.

Florida Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah filed HB 1021 and SB 1220 respectively, which instead of saying courts "shall" award legal fees when a government agency unlawfully refuses to provide a public record, the edited text says the court "may" award fees. 

The bills also add a clause requiring the plaintiff to provide a written notice of the public records request to the custodian of the records at least five business days before filing a lawsuit, which isn't currently required. The bills have the backing of the Florida League of Cities, whose lobbyist told the Tallahassee Democrat that "some unethical lawyers around the state are filing thousands of frivolous lawsuits for the sole purpose of getting attorneys fees." One First Amendment expert told the Democrat the law would "do more harm than any records exemption passed by lawmakers in the past 25 years."

The bills come in wake of Gov. Rick Scott using $1 million in taxpayer money this year to settle in public records and open meetings lawsuits, the Tampa Bay Times notes in an editorial. 

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