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Shady idea

Florida Voices
Published:   |   Updated: April 30, 2013 at 01:27 PM

There is a dubious policy that could become law, reducing sunshine on public affairs and Floridians’ access to government records. The bill in question, grinding its way through the Legislature, is CS/SB 1260. It would exempt email addresses of registered voters and voter-registration applicants from open-records requests.

It is not clear why the bill was proposed. Perhaps some voters or voter-registration applicants did not like the idea of having their email addresses becoming public records. But the bill goes far beyond addressing that issue. According to Barbara A. Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, the bill would exempt all state agencies from divulging email addresses of anyone who is a registered voter.

The consequence would be this: Floridians could still access email correspondence between officeholders and agencies, but in many cases, they could not identify who the correspondents are. This would render many public records useless.

It would also obscure wrongdoing by public officials who use email as a way to discuss issues away from the public. Petersen said her group is working with a small group of citizens who are concerned that if email addresses are redacted from public records, there will be fewer ways to hold officials and agencies accountable.

Petersen said the damage could be lessened if the law more specifically exempted election supervisors and their offices from disclosing email addresses. But even that change that could have unintended consequences. It would be best for the Legislature, at this time in the session, to just trash the bill. It’s a bad idea and it threatens the sunshine spirit of a state that has very good open-records laws.

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