Session began January 14 and committees have started meeting. Session lasts 60 days, concluding on March 13. Here are the bills we are following with the current status:
Public Notice Bills
Public Notices (OPPOSE) HB 7 by Rep. Fine (R); SB 1340 by Sen. Gruters (R). These identical 53-page bills are similar to the bills filed last session. They would allow for publication of advertisements and public notices on “publicly accessible websites and government access channels,” and would end the current system of newspaper notice of various governmental actions and foreclosures. STATUS: House bill referenced to 3 committees, and came up before Veterans, Federal & Local on Jan. 15. After testimony from several parties, the bill passed out of committee on a party-line 7-5 vote, Rs in favor, Ds against. Interestingly, 3 Rs were not present to cast their vote. The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee, which meets next Thursday, Jan. 23. The Senate bill was referenced to three committees, the first being the Judiciary Committee.
We will be in reaching out to those publishers in the circulation area of members in the next House committee (Judiciary), as well as to Senators, and leadership in both chambers. For actions you can take to oppose these bills, see the Public Notice Day page on the FPA website (under resources): https://flpress.com/publicnoticeday.
Open Government/Records Bills
Crash Reports (OPPOSE) HB 1099 by Rep. Willhite (D). Currently, crash reports are closed to the public for 60 days, although there is an exception for certain newspapers and broadcasters (and other groups) who can obtain the reports immediately. The bill contains language that would limit immediate availability of crash reports to these media entities, thereby inhibiting publication of important public information. STATUS: House bill referenced to 3 committees, the first being Oversight, Transparency & PM. No Senate companion bill.
In addition to the bill, crash reports are also affected by the apparent sunset of changes made several years ago. Specifically, in 2014, legislation passed ending smaller free newspaper’s early access to crash reports and restricting larger (greater than 7500 circ.) free newspapers from early access to addresses and phone numbers of parties to the crash. This was passed due to abuse by some so-called “free newspapers” unlawfully soliciting crash victims. The law included language that would repeal these changes after 5 years (2019). Since it appears no legislation renewed it, section 316.066 should revert to the older language—without the limits on free newspapers.
Civil Actions (SUPPORT) HB 195 by Rep. Rodrigues (R). There have been situations where an agency responds to a public record requests with a declaratory judgment action, thereby forcing requestors into court to defend their right of access to public records and delaying the process. This bill prohibits the agency from responding to requests in such a manner (i.e., by filing a civil action against the requestor). STATUS: House bill passed all 3 assigned committees, now on floor second reading calendar. No Senate companion bill filed.