2019 Legislative Session Wrap-up Report

The 2019 Session began March 5. It was scheduled to end on May 3 but was extended for one day to finalize the budget. [NOTE: The 2020 Session will begin early next year on January 14 with interim committees starting to meet as early as September.]  Here are the 2019 Session bills we followed with the final status :

Public Notice Bills

Public Notices (OPPOSE) HB 1235 by Rep. Fine (R); SB 1676 by Sen. Baxley (R).  These almost identical 41-page bills 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 three committees, passed first by 10-5 and second by 11-7. Bill’s third committee reference removed and placed on House floor calendar.  Bill passed House floor on April 17 on a vote of 68 to 44 (8 missed), largely along party lines (Rs in favor, Ds opposed). House bill sent to Senate and was referred to committee, where it died.  Senate bill was never heard in committee and died. We will be in touch with members to discuss proactive steps to hopefully lessen the chance of similar legislation being filed next session or oppose it if it is.

Legal and Official Advertisements (OPPOSE) SB 1710 by Sen. Diaz (R). This 5-page bill says local governments may publish legal ads and notices on county/city websites in lieu of Chapter 50 newspaper notices. STATUS: Bill referenced to 3 committees, stalled, withdrawn.

Community Redevelopment Agencies (OPPOSE SENATE LANGUAGE) HB 9 by Rep. LaMarca (R); SB 1054 by Sen. Lee (R). The Senate bill as filed failed to keep the newspaper notice requirement for CRA annual report filings. House bill retained the notice. STATUS: Senate laid its bill on table, took up House bill, amended it without including notice requirement and returned it to House; House passed HB 9 as amended.

Dissolved Corporation Notice (NEUTRAL) SB 892 by Sen. Passidomo (R); HB 1009 Rep. Byrd (R). These bills initially deleted the optional newspaper notice for dissolved corporations. STATUS: Bills amended in committee to reinstate notice; House bill passed; Senate bill laid on table, took up and passed House bill.

Sample Ballot Notice(OPPOSE) HB 7101 by State Affairs Committee; SB 7066 by Ethics and Elections Committee (Chair: Sen. Baxley).  House bill makes newspaper notice of sample ballots optional when mailed to all electors—as was the law up until a few years ago. STATUS: Senate bill originally lacked the optional language but amended to include it and passed floor; House laid its bill on table, then passed Senate bill with optional language.

Open Government/Records Bills/CAs

Victim Rights Amendment 6 (Marcy’s Law). This is the victim’s right constitutional amendment, modeled on a similar measure in California (known as Marsy’s Law), as well as provisions in several other states, approved in November by 62% of Florida voters. It went into effect January 8. Since being approved, confusion has arisen on the amendment’s effect on public records under the Sunshine Law and journalists have encountered difficulty in getting victim information from police. The particular provision causing most of the confusion is paragraph (b)(5), which states that crime victims and their families have the “right” to prevent disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family. STATUS: We are working with FAF and other groups to explore ways to clarify the measure and hopefully limit its impact on open records laws. If you need a copy of the somewhat helpful Miami Police Dept. memo, please contact Sam.

Victim Rights (NEUTRAL) SB 1426 by Sen. Book (D). This bill specifies rights that a victim may elect to exercise but doesn’t include any language regarding the Amendment 6 right to prevent disclosure of victim location records noted above.  STATUS: Referenced to 3 committees; died.

 Exemption/Photographs and Videos Depicting Victims of Mass Violence: (NEUTRAL) SB 186 by Sen. Lee (R); HB 7017 by Oversight, Transparency & Public Management Subcommittee.  Bills contained a public record exemption for photographs, videos or audio recordings that depict the killing of a victim of mass violence. While bills allow access to the protected records by court order, the problem is the cost of getting a court order. STATUS: FAF worked with Senator Lee who filed an amendment narrowing exemption; amended Senate bill passed floor. House bill laid on table, passed Senate bill.

Exemption/Photographs and Videos Depicting the Killing of a Person (OPPOSE): Sen. Bean (R) SB 1146. The exemption for photographs and videos depicting the killing of a person was subject to sunset review during the 2016 Session. Sen. Bradley narrowed the exemption to killing of a law enforcement officer, as originally intended, but SB 1146 reversed this. STATUS: Bill referred to 3 committees; FAF requested withdrawal of bill; later withdrawn.

Public Records – Civil Actions (SUPPORT) HB 407 by Rep. Rodrigues (R); SB 602 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. These bills prohibit agency from responding to requests in such a manner (i.e., by filing a civil action against the requestor). STATUS: House bill passed unanimously, in messages to Senate, later withdrawn; Senate bill passed first committee, referred to Judiciary committee but never moved, withdrawn.

Public Safety – Administrative Sealing of Criminal History Records (OPPOSE) HB 7125 by Judiciary Committee. This massive criminal justice revision bill includes language  requiring the Florida Department of Law enforcement to adopt rules to automatically seal criminal history records for non-forcible and non-sex offender felonies when a charging document isn’t filed; charges weren’t filed or were dropped or dismissed; or the defendant was acquitted or found not guilty. Creates s. 943.0595, F.S.  Note that the sealer applies only to FDLE – in other words, a criminal history record will still be subject to disclosure at the courthouse and at the local law enforcement agency.  STATUS Bill with sealing language passed House unanimously and Senate with one nay; FAF drafting a veto request.