Session began January 14 and concludes 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 has passed its 3 committees of reference and is now on the floor calendar. The Senate bill was referenced to three committees, and came up before the Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Feb. 11. The bill was postponed and we are waiting to see if it will be placed again on the Committee’s agenda.
For actions you can take to oppose these bills, see the Public Notice page on the FPA website: https://flpress.com/publicnotice.
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 but has not moved. 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 no legislation renewed it, section 316.066 should arguably revert to the older language—without the limits on free newspapers.
Civil Actions (SUPPORT) HB 195 by Rep. Rodrigues (R); SB 162 by Sen. Perry (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. The House bill prohibits the agency from responding to requests in such a manner (i.e., by filing a civil action against the requestor). Senate bill allows agencies to bring declaratory actions against requesters but imposes fees if they lose their exemption argument. STATUS: House bill passed all 3 assigned committees, now on floor calendar. Senate bill passed its first 2 of 3 referenced committees.