Florida bill would hide lawmakers' personal information

click to enlarge Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland - Photo via Florida House of Representatives
Photo via Florida House of Representatives
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland
Floridians wouldn’t be able to know the birthdates or some family details of legislators and state Cabinet members, under a Senate proposal that advanced along party lines Tuesday.

The Ethics and Elections Committee voted 4-3 to support the proposal (SB 832), filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. It seeks to create a public-records exemption to shield from release the home addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth of members of the House, Senate and Cabinet, as well as the names, employers and birthdates of lawmakers’ spouses and children.

Stargel, who already receives a public-records exemption for her residence because her husband is a circuit judge, said the proposed exemption is needed because the political climate has changed.

“The animosity, at least the emails and things that I have seen have risen to a higher level than they were even when I first got elected,” said Stargel, who was initially elected to the state House in 2008.

“Making it harder for members of the public, the press and others ... to know where individual legislators and candidates live, I think is problematic.”

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Stargel said the internet has made it easier for people to get public records. Years ago, “it was a little more difficult to find out where an individual lived,” Stargel said. “You had to go to a community, maybe get the phone book, go get an actual public record. But (now) you've got a person who can live anywhere in this nation, actually anywhere in the world, who can Google search our names and figure out where we live.”

But Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said he hasn’t seen a case for the exemption and is concerned about making addresses harder to find as the Legislature approaches redistricting after the 2020 Census.

“Making it harder for members of the public, the press and others who might scrutinize this body to know where individual legislators and candidates live, I think is problematic,” Rodrigues said. The measure would also shield from public records the names and locations of schools and day-care facilities attended by the children of lawmakers.

House and Senate websites currently list the birthdays, if not the years of birth, for many lawmakers, along with the names of their spouses and children. The House and Senate also often list lawmakers’ occupations, educational backgrounds, religious affiliations and recreational interests.

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