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First Amendment Watch Dogs Concerned Over Proposed Change to Sunshine Law

October 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Sunshine Laws make Florida’s state and local governments some of the most transparent in the nation.
But First amendment advocates fear recently filed legislation would cast a shadow on the policy It allows two public officials to meet privately without public notice or access.
“If you want to conduct business in private then go into the private sector or go to a state that doesn’t have Florida’s tradition of open government,” said Attorney Florence Snyder.
Last session lawmakers made a similar proposal.
It would have allowed two public officials to discuss legislation off the record.
The bill failed by just one vote in the House.
At the time the sponsor Representative Byron Donalds told us it was simply decriminalizing an already commonplace practice.
“Are we going to criminalize all elected officials and say that you are barred from doing what normal people do in the course of business,” said Donalds.
The new bill doesn’t go as far, specifying public business can’t be discussed in the meetings.
Sponsor State Senator Dennis Baxley says the current law doesn’t take in to account close relationships between local officials.
“In some communities you even have the husband and the wife in the same bedroom, but they can’t be in a meeting together because they’re both elected officials,”said Baxley.
Despite the restrictions, With only the two officials behind closed doors, there would be no way to know if public business was discussed or not.
“Ultimately you still have to trust your elected official to be truthful about what they did or didn’t do,” said Baxley.
The bill has already passed one committee.
Another hears it Tuesday which means lawmakers have it on a fast track.
Changes to the state’s Sunshine laws need a 2/3 majority vote in both chambers to become law.

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