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Open Government Advocates Give Florida Lawmakers Mixed Review

Florida Capitol Building in Tallahassee. Source: WikiMedia Commons
Florida Capitol Building in Tallahassee. Source: WikiMedia Commons

Open government advocates are giving the 2017 session a mixed review after lawmakers quietly closed nearly 3 million arrest records.

First Amendment Foundation president Barbara Petersen was tracking 127 bills, but in the end, lawmakers created just 17 new exemptions to open records laws.

A measure that would have allowed local officials to meet in secret didn’t pass, but Petersen said that’s only because of a 2002 constitutional amendment that made it harder to water down Florida's famous government in the sunshine protections.

“It’s the first time since 2002 that an exemption died on the floor for failure to get the two-thirds vote,” said Peterson. “Now, I do want to point out that a majority of the members voted for it.”

But the foundation couldn’t stop another bill that seals all criminal records whenever charges are dropped or a defendant is found not guilty.

That’s a problem, Petersen said, because guilty people beat the system all the time. Employers won’t know about multiple arrests that Petersen says should serve as red flags.

“A rape victim doesn’t want to testify in an open courtroom. Charges are dropped. A murder witness dies. Charges are dropped,” she said.

Petersen is asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill. In her letter, Petersen notes the measure never got a separate hearing, but was added at the last minute to another bill that regulates internet publishers of police mug shots.