Florida Sunshine Law
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
- See also: Florida transparency headlines
- Miami FL records held hostage due to financial disputes 2010-07-26 12:41:37
- Miami Beach city council votes to end $100 flat rate for records requests 2010-07-23 12:00:52
- Public record requests meet with confusion in central Florida 2009-08-04 13:23:25
- U. of Florida ordered to make student senate meetings public 2011-01-20 10:32:16
- Attorney Fees in Venice Sunshine Case Nears $3 Million 2010-08-25 09:57:38
- Florida judge rules that NCAA documents are public 2010-08-25 09:56:56
- Texting by public officials: Does it violate Sunshine laws in meetings? 2009-05-29 13:31:18
- Records Bill Closer To Passage 2009-05-29 13:12:39
- City's public records procedures discussed today 2009-05-29 12:53:54
- Attorney General encourages government transparency 2009-08-04 12:23:52
- Elections records in shambles, new chief says 2009-05-27 14:34:25
We do not currently have any legislation for Florida in 2011. To add some, please see WikiProject Proposed state sunshine legislation.
Here are a list of 30 random bills from Florida from 2010. For a full list, please see Florida transparency legislation.
- House Bill 135  provides an exemption from public records requirements for personal identifying information of insured dependents such as minor dependent 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 is Senate Bill 270.
- House Bill 145  exempts from public records all information and records submitted to the Department of Health under an electronic monitoring system for the dispensing of controlled of substances. The bill provides guidelines for who may access such information and also lays out penalties for violations of the proposed guidelines. The bill was introduced on March 1, 2009 and has been referred to several committees. Its companion bill in the Senate is Senate Bill 612.
- House Bill 221  provides 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 has since been referred to several committees. Its companion bill in the Senate is Senate Bill 1044.
- House Bill 275  prohibits 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 & exempt from public records laws. As of April 2009, the bill has been referred to several committees. Its companion bill in the Senate is 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 has since been referred to several committees. Its companion bill in the Senate is Senate Bill 636.
- House Bill 299  was introduced in the House on March 3, 2009. It seeks to require a surety to record in the public records a payment bond for a public works construction project. As of April 2009, it has been referred to several committees. Its companion bill in the Senate is Senate Bill 560.
- House Bill 409  aims 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 is related to Senate Bills 1260 and 2432.
- House Bill 575  seeks to allow automatic expunging of criminal records under certain circumstances. It was introduced in the House on March 3, 2009 and has since been referred to several committees.
- House Bill 585  seeks to exempts 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. If passed, it will become effective on July 1, 2009.
- House Bill 699  aims to exempt from public records the contact information of current and former investigators and their families that worked for the the Department of Business & Professional Regulation. It was introduced in the House on March 3, 2009 and has seen been referred to several committees.
- Senate Bill 126  seeks 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  creates 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  creates an exemption from public records for serologic blood test results from juveniles. It was introduced in the Senate on March 3, 2009 and has since been referred to several committees.
- Senate Bill 250  seeks to narrow the public-records exemption so that it authorizes parents or adult children of decedents to obtain autopsy records. It was introduced in the Senate on March 3, 2009 and has since been 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  provides that proprietary confidential business information held by an agency is confidential and exempt from public records requirements. It is identical to Senate Bill 1836 and has been referred to the Commerce and Governmental Accountability and Oversight Committees in the Senate since being introduced.
- Senate Bill 440  exempts from public-records requirements information and records reported to the Agency for Health Care 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) proposes 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  is 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  expresses the legislative intent to revise laws relating to an exemption from requirements for public records and meetings.
- Senate Bill 612  is 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  is 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  is the Senate version of House Bill 275 discussed in the above section. It was introduced in the Senate on March 3, 2009 and has been referred to the Criminal Justice Committee, Judiciary Committee and Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee.
As of April 2009, the bill was referred to - prohibiting the commercial use or distribution of law enforcement photographs or video recordings of a deceased person or that show a person's extreme, severe, or acute injuries, which photographs or recordings are confidential and exempt from the public-records laws; providing that such photographs and video recordings remain confidential and exempt from the public-records laws when used or transmitted under certain circumstances (Identical to HB 275).
- Senate Bill 648  provides 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  amends 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 is House Bill 7021.
- Senate Bill 750  seeks 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  clarifies 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 has been referred to several committees since.<re name="SB754" />
- Senate Bill 1044  is 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  provides 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, requires that exempt portions of meetings be recorded, transcribed, and maintained for a specified period and provides an exemption from public-records requirements for minutes and transcripts of exempt portions of meetings. It has been referred to the Banking and Insurance and Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committees.
- Senate Bill 7000  clarifyies the exemption from public record requirements that is provided for building plans, blueprints, schematic drawings, and diagrams held by an agency.
- Senate Bill 7002  relates to a public records exemption for insurance claim data exchange information. It saves the exemption from repeal under the Open Government Sunset Review Act.
- Senate Bill 7004  relates to a public-records exemption for personal identifying information held by a children's services council or related entity. It saves the exemption from repeal under the Open Government Sunset Review Act.
- Senate Bill 7008  relates to a public-records exemption for certain information regarding campaign finance reports. It clarifies the provision and saves the exemption from repeal under the Open Government Sunset Review Act.
- Senate Bill 7020  relates to an exemption from public-records requirements for personal information contained in motor vehicle records.
- Senate Bill 7022  relates 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 saves the exemption from repeal under the Open Government Sunset Review Act.
- Senate Bill 7024  revises an exemption under the public-records law for information that would identify a child participating in a government-sponsored recreation program; defines the terms “government-sponsored recreation program” and “child”; provides that such information is confidential and exempt from the public-records law; and deletes provisions providing for repeal of the exemption.
- Senate Bill 7026  relates to a public-records exemption for identification and location information of certain agency personnel; saving the exemption from repeal under the Open Government Sunset Review Act; deletes provisions providing for repeal of the exemption; relocates and revises the public-records exemption provided for identification and location information concerning federal attorneys, judges, and magistrates; defines the term “identification and location information”; eliminates social security numbers from the scope of information covered by the public-records exemption; and requires 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  relates to a public-records exemption for written valuations of surplus state lands and related documents and saves 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 will presents 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, are strongly opposed to one plan of the FCOG, which is 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 believe 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 may make it into the final plan are:
- 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. For more information go the page or go to Florida sunshine lawsuits.
(The 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|
|Vanette Webb v. School Board of Escambia County||2009|
|Wait v. Florida Power & Light||1979|
Florida government websites
- Main article: Evaluation of Florida county websites
As of March 2009, of the 67 Florida counties, just two counties (Escambia and Highlands) provide 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 meet 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.
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."
- "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.
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.
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.
Florida has adopted a loose test to determine if a private entity is considered a public body. The court established the following criteria to consider in order to determine if a private entity should be considered a public body.
because they were acting "on bahalf of" the public agency.
1.) The amount of public funding 2.) Whether or not the funds are mixed with city funds 3.) If the activities occur on public property 4.) If the service constitutes a key aspect of the decision making processes of the body 5.) If the service provided is a function of the body 6.) Public control of the company 7.) If the corporation was created by the agency 8.) If the public agency has an invested financial interest in the corporation 9.) Who is benefiting from the corporation.
These criteria are meant to act as guidelines and are not definitive in any way.
Status: Presumed/Judicially confirmed Popular Exemptions Research Donors Examinations Course Materials
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.
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.
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.
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.
- For more records commissions in other states, please see, State Records Commissions
The Florida Commission on Open Government (FCOG) is a commission formed by Florida governor Charlie Christ by Executive Order 07-107 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.
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."
- To read more about open meetings in Florida, please see: Florida Open Meetings 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 headlines
- Florida transparency advocates
- Florida transparency legislation
- Private agency, public dollars-Florida
- Florida Transparency Act 2009
- ↑ McCollum Calls on Local Governments, Law Enforcement and School Districts to Make Enhanced Sunshine New Year’s Resolution, December 30, 2008
- ↑ Bradenton Herald, "Sunshine setting: Agencies flunk public records requests", November 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
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 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
- ↑ State ex rel. Copeland v. Cartwright
- ↑ Bay County School Board v. Public Employees Relations Commission
- ↑ Buchanan v. Miami Herald
- ↑ 19.0 19.1 RCFP Open Gov. Guide FL
- ↑ 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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