Florida Sunshine Law
- 1 Proposed changes
- 2 Relevant legal cases
- 3 Florida government websites
- 4 Transparency report card
- 5 Features of the law
- 5.1 Declared legal intention
- 5.2 What records are covered?
- 5.3 What agencies are covered?
- 5.4 Who may request records?
- 5.5 Must a purpose be stated?
- 5.6 How can records be used?
- 5.7 Time allowed for response
- 5.8 Fees for records
- 5.9 Records commissions and ombudsmen
- 5.10 Role of the Attorney General
- 6 Open meetings
- 7 Notable requests
- 8 See also
- 9 External links
- 10 References
The Florida Sunshine Law is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to the public records of governmental bodies in Florida. The law was first enacted in 1995. The original statutes state:
- The Florida Open Meetings Law (Fla. Stat. sec 286) governs the extent to which public meetings are open to the public.
- The Florida Public Records Law (Fla. Stat. sec. 119) governs the inspection and copying of public records.
To learn more about how to make a public records request in Florida, please see Florida FOIA procedures.
We do not have any legislation for Florida in 2011.
We do not have any legislation for Florida in 2010.
House Bill 135 provided an exemption from public records requirements for personal identifying information of insured dependents, such as minor dependents of current or former officers or employees of state agencies, when the dependents are insured by a state agency group insurance plan. The bill seeks to make this exemption apply retroactively. The bill was added to the Economic Development & Community Affairs Policy Council agenda on April 10, 2009. Its companion bill in the Senate was Senate Bill 270.
House Bill 145 exempted from public records all information and records submitted to the Department of Health under an electronic monitoring system for the dispensing of controlled substances. The bill provided guidelines for who may access such information and also laid out penalties for violations of the proposed guidelines. The bill was introduced on March 1, 2009 and was referred to several committees. Its companion bill in the Senate was Senate Bill 612.
House Bill 221 provided an exemption from public records requirements for specified identifying information contained in a statewide Internet registry maintained under the Vacant or Abandoned Real Property Registration, Maintenance, and Foreclosure Reporting Act. The bill was introduced on March 3, 2009 and was referred to several committees. Its companion bill in the Senate was Senate Bill 1044.
House Bill 275 prohibited the commercial use or distribution of law enforcement photographs or recordings of deceased persons or that show a person's extreme, severe or acute injuries which are confidential and exempt from public records laws. As of April 2009, the bill had been referred to several committees. Its companion bill in the Senate was Senate Bill 638.
House Bill 277 is linked to House Bill 275. It seeks to provide an exemption from public records law for investigative or crime scene photographs and records of deceased persons or of any person's extreme, severe or acute injuries. It was introduced in the House on March 3, 2009 and was referred to several committees. Its companion bill in the Senate was Senate Bill 636.
House Bill 299 was introduced in the House on March 3, 2009. It sought to require a surety to record in the public records a payment bond for a public works construction project. As of April 2009, it had been referred to several committees. Its companion bill in the Senate was Senate Bill 560.
House Bill 409 aimed to provide an exemption from public records requirements for the personal identifying information of employees and families of employees of public educational institutions that participate in group health insurance programs. The bill was referred to the PreK-12 Policy Committee on March 30, 2009. Adria Harper, the director of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, called the bill "ridiculous." The bill was related to Senate Bills 1260 and 2432.
House Bill 585 sought to exempt from public records requirements information reported to the Department of Health under an electronic system for monitoring the dispensing of certain controlled substances. It passed through the Civil Justice & Courts Policy Committee, the Government Affairs Policy Committee and the Criminal & Civil Justice Policy Committee in March of 2009.
House Bill 699 aimed to exempt from public records the contact information of current and former investigators and their families that worked for the Department of Business & Professional Regulation. It was introduced in the House on March 3, 2009 and was referred to several committees.
Senate Bill 126 sought to limit the public records exemption for reports relating to child abandonment, abuse or neglect. It was introduced in the Senate on March 2, 2009, went through committee reviews and was placed on a special calendar for reading on April 28, 2009.
Senate Bill 166 created an exemption from public records any information that identifies a donor or prospective donor of a donation made for the benefit of a publicly owned building or facility if the donor desires to remain anonymous. It was sent to the Rules Committee on April 17, 2009.
Senate Bill 176 created an exemption from public records for serologic blood test results from juveniles. It was introduced in the Senate on March 3, 2009 and was referred to several committees.
Senate Bill 250 sought to narrow the public records exemption so that it authorizes parents or adult children of descendants to obtain autopsy records. It was introduced in the Senate on March 3, 2009 and was referred to Health Regulation, Regulated Industries, Judiciary and Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committees.
Senate Bill 270 is the Senate version of House Bill 135 discussed in the above section. The bill was referred to the Rules Committee on April 9, 2009.
Senate Bill 358 provided that proprietary confidential business information held by an agency is confidential and exempt from public records requirements. It was identical to Senate Bill 1836 and was referred to the Commerce and Governmental Accountability and Oversight Committees in the Senate after being introduced.
Senate Bill 440 exempted from public records requirements information and records reported to the Agency for Healthcare Administration under the electronic-monitoring system for the tracking of prescriptions of controlled substances.
Senate Bill 468, sponsored by Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey), proposed to exempt personal identifying information regarding the health and benefit coverage of public school employees from the Sunshine Law. This bill was proposed in reaction to the outcry that arose after Joel Chandler made a public records request for health insurance information from all the Florida school districts.
Senate Bill 560 was the Senate version of House Bill 299 discussed in the above section. It was referred to the Community Affairs Committee on April 7, 2009.
Senate Bill 584 expressed the legislative intent to revise laws relating to an exemption from requirements for public records and meetings.
Senate Bill 612 was the Senate version of House Bill 145 discussed in the above section. It was referred to several committees on March 30, 2009.
Senate Bill 636 was the Senate version of House Bill 277 discussed in the above section. It was referred to the Criminal Justice, Governmental Oversight, Accountability and Rules Committees on March 3, 2009.
Senate Bill 638 was the Senate version of House Bill 275 discussed in the above section. It was introduced in the Senate on March 3, 2009 and was referred to the Criminal Justice Committee, Judiciary Committee and Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee.
Senate Bill 648 provided an exemption from public records requirements for information concerning certain donors and prospective donors to the direct support organization of the Department of Elderly Affairs.
Senate Bill 748 amended a specified provision relating to an exemption from public records requirements personal identifying information held by a children's services council or related entity. Its companion bill in the House was House Bill 7021.
Senate Bill 750 sought to amend provisions relating to a public records exemption for records obtained by the Department of Revenue under an insurance claim data exchange information.
Senate Bill 754 clarified the exemption from public record requirements that is provided for building plans, blueprints, schematic drawings and diagrams held by an agency. It was introduced in the Senate on March 3, 2009 and was referred to several committees since.<re name="SB754" />
Senate Bill 1044 was the Senate version of House Bill 221 discussed in the above section. It was introduced on March 3, 2009 and subsequently referred to the Banking and Insurance Committee, Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee and the Rules Committee.
Senate Bill 1046 provided an exemption from public records requirements for certain records of the Florida Hurricane Protection Program of the Florida Catastrophe Fund, from public meetings requirements for portions of certain meetings of the State Board of Administration, required that exempt portions of meetings be recorded, transcribed, and maintained for a specified period and provided an exemption from public records requirements for minutes and transcripts of exempt portions of meetings. It was referred to the Banking and Insurance and Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committees.
Senate Bill 7000 clarified the exemption from public record requirements that is provided for building plans, blueprints, schematic drawings, and diagrams held by an agency.
Senate Bill 7004 related to a public records exemption for personal identifying information held by a children's services council or related entity. It saved the exemption from repeal under the Open Government Sunset Review Act.
Senate Bill 7008 related to a public records exemption for certain information regarding campaign finance reports. It clarified the provision and saved the exemption from repeal under the Open Government Sunset Review Act.
Senate Bill 7020 related to an exemption from public records requirements for personal information contained in motor vehicle records.
Senate Bill 7022 related to a public records exemption for business information provided by a business owner to a governmental condemning authority for the purpose of making an offer of business damages. It saved the exemption from repeal under the Open Government Sunset Review Act.
Senate Bill 7024 revised an exemption under the public records law for information that would identify a child participating in a government-sponsored recreation program; defined the terms “government-sponsored recreation program” and “child”; provided that such information is confidential and exempt from the public records law; and deleted provisions providing for repeal of the exemption.
Senate Bill 7026 related to a public records exemption for identification and location information of certain agency personnel; saved the exemption from repeal under the Open Government Sunset Review Act; deleted provisions providing for repeal of the exemption; relocated and revised the public records exemption provided for identification and location information concerning federal attorneys, judges, and magistrates; defined the term “identification and location information”; eliminated Social Security numbers from the scope of information covered by the public records exemption; and required a federal attorney, judge, or magistrate to attest that efforts have been made to protect the information from disclosure through other means.
Senate Bill 7030 related to a public records exemption for written valuations of surplus state lands and related documents and saved the exemption from repeal under the Open Government Sunset Review Act.
In 2008 Gov. Charlie Crist created a nine-member panel, the Florida Commission on Open Government (FCOG), to review exemptions to Florida's Sunshine Law. The commission was slated to present its final report to the state legislature in the 2009 legislative session.
Two members of the Commission on Open Government, Gerald Bailey and Renee Francis Lee, were strongly opposed to one plan of the FCOG, which was the panel's proposal to reduce the charges that government agencies are allowed to levy on citizens who ask for records. Gerald Bailey is the head of Florida's Department of Law Enforcement and Renee Francis Lee is the attorney for Hillsborough County. They believed the cost of record searches would be a hardship for state, city and county governments and that the FCOG did not take enough testimony from government agencies on the issue.
FCOG proposals that were expected to make it into the final plan were:
- Eliminating the "extensive use" provision in public-records law, which allows government agencies to charge high fees for finding, copying and providing public information.
- Require that records in any electronic medium be provided at actual cost of duplication.
- Allow people to negotiate reasonable fees for a "specialized electronic service or product"
- Change the current law so that any redaction of legally confidential information is not a "specialized" service requiring additional charges.
Relevant legal cases
- See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA
Here is a list of lawsuits in Florida (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).
|Bundy v. State of Florida||1984|
|Florida Freedom Newspapers v. McCrary||1988|
|Lorenzo v. City of Venice||2008|
|McCarthy v. Town of Windermere||2010|
|Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Lewis||1982|
|News and Sun-Sentinel Company v. Schwab, Twitty, & Hanser Architecture Group||1992|
|Palm Beach Newspapers Inc. v. Burk||1987|
|Parsons & Whittemore, Inc. v. Metro. Dade County||1983|
|Shevin v. Byron, Harless, Schaffer, Reid and Associates||1980|
|Times Publishing Co. v. Williams||1969|
|Vanette Webb v. School Board of Escambia County||2009|
|Wait v. Florida Power & Light||1979|
Florida government websites
- See also: Evaluation of Florida county websites
As of March 2009, of the 67 Florida counties, just two counties (Escambia and Highlands) provided information on how to request public records using the Florida Sunshine Law. Attorney General Bill McCollum issued a call on December 30, 2008 for all "sheriffs, county commissions and school boards" to "... immediately place on their websites the email address and phone number for their public records points of contact. Additionally, the Attorney General asked the government leaders to have their contracts and current budgets posted online in time for Sunshine Week, which starts on March 15."
Transparency report card
An audit of Sunshine Law compliance performed by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors found that public record requests met with confusion in central Florida in late 2008.
Joel Chandler conducted an audit in late 2008 of compliance with the law by Florida school districts. Grades obtained by the 67 districts ranged from "F" to an A+ for the Collier County school district.
A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Florida 53 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 19 out of the 50 states.
Features of the law
- Compare States: Sunshine variations
- Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.
Declared legal intention
The declared legal intention of the Florida Sunshine Law states, "It is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records shall be open for personal inspection by any person."
What records are covered?
- See also: Defining public records
- "Records" are defined in the law as "all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, or means of transmission, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency."
- The Florida Supreme Court has interpreted records to include "any material prepared in connection with official agency business which is intended to perpetuate, communicate, or formalize knowledge of some type."
- Records of a utilization review committee of a county hospital that came into the committee's possession from a source who expected or was promised confidentiality are still subject to the law.
- A court held in 1981 that the grievance record of a public school teacher was subject to disclosure under Florida's law even though the school district had entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the teachers' union under which such files were supposed to be retained as confidential.
- "Inter-office memoranda and intra-office memoranda communicating information from one public employee to another or merely prepared for filing, even though not a part of an agency's later, formal public product, would nonetheless constitute public records inasmuch as they supply the final evidence of knowledge obtained in connection with the transaction of official business."
- A court ruled in 1977 that a city could not refuse disclosure of employee names under Florida's law through the tactic of passing a local ordinance defining such records as private, contrary to the state's law.
- Federal records that the federal government has designated as non-public, but which were provided by the federal government to a state agency, are not public, according to a 1998 court decision. The reasoning here was that it would have a chilling effect on the sharing of information between the state and the federal government if such documents were held to be public under Florida's laws.
- Personal e-mails sent from or received by city employees using government computer may fall outside the definition of a public record, according to a 2002 court ruling.
- There is a lengthy court record in the state having to do with whether or not "drafts" or "notes" are public under the act. Some rulings that have determined that drafts are not public:
- The state supreme court has written that drafts or notes which "constitute mere precursors of governmental 'records' and are not, in themselves, intended as final evidence of the knowledge to be recorded" may not fall under the law. This exception may apply to rough drafts, notes to be used in preparing other materials, and tapes or notes taken as dictation.
- In 1998 a court held that an internal auditor's report draft delivered to a county administrator was not subject to disclosure since the draft was not a final report and it was not delivered to a "unit of government."
- In 2002 a court ruled that notes created by members of the state's judicial nominating commission while interviewing judicial candidates are not public.
- Other rulings that have determined that drafts and working papers are public:
- In 1973 a court ruled that a site plan review prepared for a public building must be open for inspection, regardless of the fact that the site plan review was a preliminary document.
- In 1980, a court ruled that school board budget work sheets are public, because they are materials prepared in connection with official agency business.
Deliberative process exemption
What agencies are covered?
- See also: Defining public body
The Florida Constitution says in Article I that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches all fall within the scope of "the right to inspect or copy any public record made or received in connection with the official business of any public officer, or employee of the state, or persons acting on their behalf."
However, there are exceptions.
- Materials gathered by the Parole and Probation Commission in the course of an investigation regarding an application for clemency as directed by the Governor under the power of the Rules of Executive Clemency may not fall under the Florida sunshine law, according to a 1986 opinion of the state's attorney general.
- By statute, the legislature has exempted some executive orders and reports having to do with state attorneys.
- Grand Jury documents are confidential.
- Courts can seal court records and when they do, they do so with reference to a set of protocols and doctrines developed in the court system, not laid out in the sunshine law. This is the case because there is a doctrine of separation of powers in the state under which it is the state's Supreme Court that has the power to adopt rules for practice and procedure in the judicial system.
- See also: Legislatures and transparency
While the legislature falls under the Sunshine Law, the state legislature has given itself some exemptions. These include exempting the journal of the executive session of the Senate from disclosure except upon order of the Senate itself or a court of competent jurisdiction, and forbidding legislative employees from revealing the contents of requests for services made by state legislators.
Private governmental agencies
Florida has adopted a loose test to determine if a private entity is considered a public body. The court established the following criteria in order to determine if a private entity should be considered a public body because they were acting "on behalf of" the public agency.
- The amount of public funding
- Whether or not the funds are mixed with city funds
- If the activities occur on public property
- If the service constitutes a key aspect of the decision making processes of the body
- If the service provided is a function of the body
- Public control of the company
- If the corporation was created by the agency
- If the public agency has an invested financial interest in the corporation
- Who is benefiting from the corporation.
These criteria are meant to act as guidelines and are not definitive in any way.
- See also: Universities and open records
The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. This assumption was enforced by National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Associated Press which held that records of a Florida State University hearing before the NCAA were public.
Who may request records?
Must a purpose be stated?
- See also: States requiring a statement of purpose
No. What motivates someone to ask for documents is irrelevant under the law. Courts have upheld this interpretation, as in 1987 when a court held that an agency cannot require a person to disclose background information about himself in order for the agency to decide how they want to handle the request.
How can records be used?
- See also: Record use restrictions
Going back to 1905, before the law was formalized, Florida courts have held that it is not up to the government to determine the use to which a person might put public documents once copies are received.
Time allowed for response
- See also: Request response times by state
The act does not specify a specific response time.
Fees for records
A government agency may charge fees for records requested under the act:
- A copying fee may be charged. It should be limited to the actual copying cost, except in cases where the law sets a specific fee. In addition, if there is no specific law regarding fees, the records office may charge up to 15 cents per one-sided copy for duplicated copies of not more than legal size paper. They may charge no more than an additional 5 cents for each two-sided copy and the actual cost of duplication of the public record for all other copies.
- The "actual cost of duplication" is defined. Section 119.07(1)(a) says that it means "the cost of materials and supplies used to duplicate the record but it does not include the labor costs or overhead costs associated with such duplication."
- Generally, the fee should not exceed 15 cents for copies, if the copies are 8.5 x 14 inches or less.
- The state's attorney general said in an opinion that "providing access to public records is a statutory duty imposed upon all record custodians and should not be considered a revenue-generating operation."
Special service charges over-and-above copying fees are permitted in some circumstances:
- According to a 1995 statute, this fee is intended for those times when the records requested "require extensive use of information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance by personnel of the agency."
- "Information technology resources" is defined as "data processing hardware and software and services, supplies, personnel, facility resources, maintenance and training, or other related resources."
- Charges levied under this 1995 statute are supposed to reflect the actual costs of the agency that does the work.
- These charges are not supposed to be levied for routine requests.
Records commissions and ombudsmen
- See also: State records commissions
The Florida Commission on Open Government (FCOG) is a commission formed by Florida governor Charlie Christ by Executive Order 07-107 (dead link) in June 2007 to review the Florida Sunshine Law and make recommendations for its improvement. The commission will be approving its final report on January 26, 2009. To read more about the commission or find a copy of its final report please see our page entitled, Florida Commission on Open Government.
Role of the Attorney General
- See also: Role of the Attorney General
There has yet to be a case in which a local state court has specifically addressed the issue of who exactly may sue to enforce the public records rights laid out under Chapter 119 of the state statutes. However, My Florida Sunshine, a website operated by the State Attorney General's Office dedicated to providing state citizens with all available information regarding state open record and meetings laws, states that it is "the local state attorney has the statutory authority to prosecute alleged criminal violations of the open meetings and public records law."
"All meetings of any collegial public body of the executive branch of state government or of any collegial public body of a county, municipality, school district, or special district, at which official acts are to be taken or at which public business of such body is to be transacted or discussed, shall be open and noticed to the public."
Florida Public Safety, 2009
On January 5, 2009, Preston Colby of the group Florida Public Safety filed a lawsuit against Highlands County for failure to produce public records, maintaining in his suit that the county's failure to produce the records he requested is a violation of the Florida Sunshine Law. In his suit, Colby names the county commissioners as a whole as well as Chairperson Barbara Stewart, County Administrator Michael J. Wright, Assistant County Administrator Ricky Helms, Records Management Officer Gloria Rybinski and Planning Director James Polatty as individual defendants.
There are three different counts in the lawsuit of either denying Colby's records requests or claiming exemption to notes and e-mails. In 2008, Colby received a $9,100 settlement from the county over another records request suit that the county decided to settle.
Joel Chandler, 2008
Joel Chandler filed information requests with all Florida school districts in 2008, seeking copies of data about school district employees and their dependents who are enrolled in the health insurance plan of the various districts. Some school districts complied with the requests and some did not. The Polk County School District ultimately was required by a court to provide the records, and also had to pay Chandler's legal fees of $25,000.
Chandler's requests have set off a firestorm of controversy, including from teachers who fear that Chandler will use the information he obtains through these records requests to in some way hurt their children, according to various message board and blog posts that were made in the wake of the requests.
- Florida Commission on Open Government
- Florida Open Meetings Law
- Florida FOIA procedures
- Florida transparency advocates
- Florida transparency legislation
- Private agency, public dollars-Florida
- Florida Transparency Act 2009
- Text & Status of HB 135
- Text & Status of SB 270
- Text & Status of HB 145
- Text & Status of SB 612
- Text & Status of HB 221
- Text & Status of SB 1044
- Text & Status of HB 275
- Text & Status of SB 638
- Text & Status of HB 277
- Text & Status of SB 636
- Text & Status of HB 299
- Text & Status of SB 560
- Text & Status of HB 409
- Text & Status of HB 575
- Text & Status of HB 585
- Text & Status of HB 699
- Text & Status of HB 7021
- [Text & Status of SB 748
- Text & Status of SB 126
- Text & Status of SB 166
- Text & Status of SB 176
- Text & Status of SB 250
- Text & Status of SB 358
- Text & Status of SB 440
- Text & Status of SB 468
- Court asked to settle records dispute, January 21, 2009 (dead link)
- Text & Status of SB 584
- Text & Status of SB 648
- Text & Status of SB 750
- Text & Status of SB 754
- Text & Status of SB 1046
- Text & Status of SB 7000
- Text & Status of SB 7002
- Text & Status of SB 7004
- Text & Status of SB 7008
- Text of SB 7020
- Text & Status of SB 7022
- Text & Status of SB 7024
- Text & Status of SB 7026
- Text & Status of SB 7030
- Florida Capitol Bureau, "Fees for open-records statutes stir controversy," January 23, 2009
- McCollum Calls on Local Governments, Law Enforcement and School Districts to Make Enhanced Sunshine New Year’s Resolution, December 30, 2008
- Joel Chandler's Public Records Report Card for Florida's school districts, 2008
- 2008 BGA-Alper Integrity Index
- States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007
- Freedom of Information in the USA, 2002
- General state policy on public records Chapter 119
- In Shevin v. Byron, Harless, Schaffer, Reid and Associates
- Gadd v. News-Press Publishing
- Mills v. Doyle
- Browning v. Walton
- State v. Buenoano
- Times Publishing Company v. City of Clearwater
- Nicolai v. Baldwin
- The Justice Coalition v. The First District Court of Appeal Nominating Commission (dead link)'
- State ex rel. Copeland v. Cartwright
- Bay County School Board v. Public Employees Relations Commission
- Buchanan v. Miami Herald
<ref>tag; no text was provided for refs named
Cite error: Invalid
- Florida Statutes, 119.01
- Bevan v. Wanicka
- State ex rel. Davis v. McMillan
- Public records panel will issue final report, Associated Press, January 22, 2009
- Article 1, Section 24 of the Florida Constitution
- Florida News Sun, "Colby sues county over records," January 7, 2009
- Bradenton Herald, "Court asked to settle records dispute," January 21, 2009
- Florida Ledger, "Polk Schools To Pay $25,000 in Legal Dispute," January 7, 2009
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