Florida governor vetoes exemptions to public records law

Caitlin Dickson | Freedom of Information | Feature | June 30, 2009

Florida Governor Charlie Crist last week barred two new exemptions from being added to the state's public records law when he vetoed a pair of bills approved by state lawmakers.

The first would have shielded from public disclosure any "proprietary business information" the Department of Management received from a telecommunications or broadband company. According to The Associated Press, Crist found the term "proprietary business information" too broad to define an exemption, but he encouraged lawmakers to rewrite the bill next year.

The First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee opposed the bill and tried to get it narrowed during the legislative session. But the group did not recommend the governor veto the measure.

"That definition is so broad you could drive a truck through it," said Barbara Peterson, the First Amendment Foundation's president. "We found [the bill] very problematic and certainly are very pleased that he did veto it."

The First Amendment Foundation did recommend Crist block the other bill, which he also vetoed. That measure would have created an exemption for information identifying a donor or prospective donor to a publicly owned building. According to the AP, the governor said there already exists a federal law that better accomplishes the bill's goal of providing both anonymity to donors and getting sufficient information to the public.

Peterson called this proposed bill "really bad public policy," suggesting that it would permit anyone to donate to any building without disclosing to the public the amount of money or even which building was to receive the donation.

"This allows people to pay to play in ways that kind of defies imagination," she said.

Among the bills the governor did sign, House Bill 7051 allows "legitimate commercial entities," defined to include the media, to access anyone's full Social Security number on public records for the narrow purpose of verifying the person's identity.

"I checked with reporters to make sure that [identity verification] is really all they use it for," said Peterson, who supported this bill. She said most people she spoke to in the news media were "very happy about it."