Under current Florida law, if a citizen or journalist sues a government agency to release public records and wins the case, the government agency is responsible not only to turn over the records, but to pay the plaintiff's attorney's fees. A new bill under consideration by the Florida legislature would remove that requirement, making a lawsuit to enforce public records laws potentially prohibitively expensive.
The bill's authors say the change is meant to cut down on frivolous lawsuits, but opponents say the measure would effectively gut the state's public records laws, and allow agencies to withhold public information whenever it was convenient.
RTDNA has joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other journalism organizations in opposing the legislation. The groups have written a letter to the bill's author's calling on them to withdraw the measure, which runs contrary to the spirit of openness for the public's business.
The letter explains that shifting the burden of attorney's fees, "...will dissuade the public and the press from pursuing clearly meritorious public records litigation for the benefit of the public at large." It goes on to say that, "Florida is known as the Sunshine State in no small part due to its commitment to the principles of open government and transparency. The Reporters Committee and the undersigned 24 media organizations strongly urge you and your colleagues to honor that commitment by rejecting HB 1021 and SB 1220."
You can read the letter in full here.