The Florida legislature is fooling with our freedoms

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Jan 21, 2022.

OUR POSITION: Some of the bills being considered by the Florida Legislature would further erode the public’s ability to get information and to enjoy the freedoms we expect.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has lauded Florida as the “freest” state in the nation.

From the looks of bills circulating around Tallahassee right now he obviously was only referring to free from COVID restrictions.

Not every bill being proposed by lawmakers is a bad bill. Many of them will help the state prosper and raise the bar for our quality of life. But, as we scan the list of bills being considered this week, we are alarmed at the number of them that could restrict our “freedoms” — especially our freedom to get information.

We’re not sure what happened in history that has seemingly made Republicans squeamish about open records. But it’s not difficult to make the argument that the GOP-controlled Legislature is sensitive about handing out too much information to the public.

We have long complained about how Marsy’s Law is defined in Florida. That law guards victims of any crime from having their name released to the public. This includes people involved in an auto wreck. It also includes police officers who fire a gun, or even kill, a suspect in the line of duty.

But, we’ll let Marsy’s Law problems alone for now. Here is a look at a handful of other bills (thanks to political online notebook Sunburn) we fear could restrict the public from knowing what their government is doing or that place demands on how things are done in counties and cities in Florida, regardless of how the local commissions and council would have it done.

  • The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee is considering SB 1658, from Sen. Aaron Bean, to make clear the governor can bypass the state Cabinet in appointing the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
  • The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee is looking at SB 1298, from Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, to require Florida professional sports teams receiving government assistance to play the U.S. national anthem before every home game. Every professional sports event we know of does this now. Still, if they didn’t, does the state have the right to tell professional sports team owners they must do so?
  • The Senate Education Committee wants to discuss how race should be taught in schools, according to SB 148, from Sen. Manny Diaz Jr.
  • Rep. Mike Beltran has a bill before the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee that would restrict what subjects could be included in ballot initiatives. Why should that be limited?
  • Here’s one that we strongly disagree with, the House Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning Subcommittee met to consider HB 703, from Rep. Sam Garrison, to extend a public-records exemption to applicants for presidents of state universities and colleges. So, the plan is to wait until the person who will lead your university is named before the public has a chance to consider their qualities?
  • The Senate Transportation Committee is considering an extension of a public-records exemption for traffic crash reports — another idea we detest.
  • The House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee is considering a bill to extend a public-records exemption for identifying information about people included in homelessness counts and databases.

We could go on, but we’ll stop here. Point made.

The Florida Legislature is too fixated on limiting information the public has access to.

 Image Credits: Sun Coast Media Group