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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 24 news organizations have written to Florida lawmakers urging them to reject two bills that would "substantially weaken Florida's Public Records Law" and "undermine the state's longstanding commitment to government transparency."
The bills, one in the Florida Senate (SB 1220) and the other in the House (HB 1021), propose elimination of a state law providing mandatory attorney's fees for public records requestors who are successful in cases where records are "unlawfully" withheld.
"That provision assures public records requesters that they will be able to recover costs and attorney’s fees incurred in successful public records litigation, and ensures that the press and the public will not shy away from enforcing the public’s right to government records and information," the letter stated. "Mandatory fee shifting provisions also create a financial incentive for state and local government officials and agencies to consistently comply with public records laws when responding to requests for access."
The letter, sent to the bill's sponsors, Sen. Rene Garcia (R-38th) and Rep. W. Gregory Steube (R-73rd), and shared with lawmakers in both chambers, noted, "This proposed shift from mandatory to permissive fee awards is not only contrary to trends at both the state and federal level, but will dissuade the public and the press from pursuing clearly meritorious public records litigation for the benefit of the public at large.
"Because members of the news media, including the undersigned organizations, necessarily depend on public records laws to obtain documents and information concerning the conduct of state and local government officials and agencies, and to keep the public informed, we are deeply troubled by the legislation being considered by you and your colleagues. We strongly urge the Florida Legislature to reject these measures."
Joining the Reporters Committee on the letter, which is posted online here, were: American Society of News Editors; The Associated Press; Association of Alternative Newsmedia; The Bradenton Herald; The Center for Investigative Reporting; Florida Today: Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University: Media Law Resource Center: The Miami Herald; MPA – The Association of Magazine Media; The National Press Club; National Press Photographers Association; Newspaper Association of America; The News-Press; Online News Association; The Orlando Sentinel; Pensacola News Journal; Radio Television Digital News Association; and Society of Professional Journalists.
About the Reporters Committee
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was founded by leading journalists and media lawyers in 1970, at a time when the nation’s news media faced a wave of government subpoenas asking reporters to name confidential sources. Today it provides legal resources, and support to protect First Amendment freedoms and the newsgathering rights of journalists. Funded by corporate, foundation, and individual contributions, the Reporters Committee serves the nation’s leading news organizations; thousands of reporters, editors, and media lawyers; and many more who use our online and mobile resources. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.