Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Annoyed Legislators Drafting More Bills to Keep Government Secret

OCCUPIED TALLAHASSEE – David Bowie is dead, Rick Scott is alive, and the whole idiocracy is back in town, hell-bent on pimping for polluters, arming students, and destroying Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

Legislators don’t think you should trouble your pretty little head over what they’re doing with your money.

The governor agrees. On Tuesday, he held a secret confab with his “Dumb and Dumber” co-star, former Texas governor Rick Perry, now lobbying for a dubious dental corporation.

Perry didn’t register as a lobbyist — a violation of ethics law — until nearly four hours after the fact, and the meeting did not appear on Scott’s January 12 schedule. Scott’s staff claim they “forgot.”

Just like Scott “forgot” he shouldn’t be using a private email account to conduct state business. That cost you, the taxpayer, well over $1 million.  He breaks the law, you pay; sleaziness clouds government in the sunshine.

Down the elected food-chain, things are just as bad. Sen. Alan Hays of Umatilla wants to exempt the names of people who have fishing and hunting permits issued by the state. See, if you know who they are, you might steal their identity.

Worse, you might go to their houses and steal their guns. And their fishing poles.

Ted Nugent, aging rocker and jailbait connoisseur, got upset last year when a reporter contacted him about the Florida bear-hunting license he’d bought.

The Nuge didn’t dig the notoriety. OK, but I’d kind of like fair warning that the author of “Cat Scratch Fever” might be skulking in a Florida forest, armed to the teeth, and looking to waste Winnie the Pooh.

Hays insists, “It’s about trying to add more gun security and keep guns out of hands that have no business with a gun in their hands.”

Not that there’s any evidence of identity theft using public records requests. No evidence public records lead to gun theft, either.

But there’s ample data demonstrating that Hays is dumb as a sack of spatulas. Two years ago, he proposed Florida’s schoolchildren be forced to watch a film promoting how America is God’s favorite, made by convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza.

Still, this is nada compared to legislation proposed by Sens. Greg Steube and Rene Garcia, which would effectively kill the public’s right to public records.

Florida Statutes 119.12 says that when you, the citizen, successfully sue a government entity for not handing over public documents to which you are entitled, “the court shall assess and award” reasonable fees to you.

Otherwise, you’d find yourself facing thousands in legal bills and expenses over access to records that should be yours in the first place.

Steube and Garcia’s SB 1220 changes the word “shall” to “may.” This looks small, but it isn’t. “May” allows a judge to blow you off, even if you are legally in the right.

As the distinguished lawyer and former head of the Department of Community Affairs Tom Pelham says in a January 11 letter to the sponsors, their bill “guts the only existing remedy for a violation of Chapter 119.”

Steube and Garcia claim to be saving taxpayers money, stopping what they deem  “frivolous” public records lawsuits. Their poster child is this rich, eccentric dude named Martin O’Boyle who tormented the city of Gulf Stream with nearly 2,000 public records requests, resulting in dueling lawsuits and a thoroughly annoying mess.

Yet for every gadfly who sues a government entity over public records, there are probably 20 legitimate claims against officials who drag their feet for months, refusing to release documents we all have a right to see, or state agencies who try to charge five-figure sums for 50 bucks worth of photocopying.

And if a lawyer habitually files silly suits, the Florida Bar will hurl sanctions his way.

The attacks on the public’s right to public records from Florida’s lawmakers is anything but high-minded. It’s self-serving. If this attack on open government passes, the one way ordinary citizens have to demand the information they need to hold government accountable will be taken from them.

I hate to tell you, Senators, but the Constitution does not guarantee freedom from irritation.

Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Her new book is “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America."  Column courtesy of Context Florida.

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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