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Next week, the Florida legislature will hold a special session to consider bills related COVID-19 mandates. At least one bill has been filed to withhold information related to complaints from an employee against an employer regarding unlawful COVID-19 practices and policies. While the bill is intended to protect employee information, the exemption would restrict the entire complaint.

The First Amendment Foundation believes that, as currently drafted, the exemption is unconstitutional. The bill is vague, overbroad, and ill-conceived.

FAF is calling on lawmakers to narrow the exemption to meet the constitutional standard for exempting public records.

We will continue to track legislation through the special session and into the regularly scheduled session.

UF professors file lawsuit alleging violation of their First Amendment Rights

Three University of Florida professors, who were prohibited from testifying in a lawsuit against the state's new voting law, filed a lawsuit for violation of their First Amendment rights. Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the professors, Sharon Wright Austin, Dan Smith, and Michael McDonald, are asking the court to strike down the school's conflict-of-interest policy, which limits employees activities when they don't align with the state's interests.

After a firestorm of criticism blasting the university for its disregard of academic freedom and free speech, UF ultimately changed course with regard to these three professors, deciding to let the professors testify as experts, but on their own time and without university affiliation.

ICYMI: FAF executive director, Pamela Marsh, participated in the Florida League of Women Voters lunch and learn session on First Amendment rights with former Florida Supreme Court justice Peggy Quince. Pamela explained that relevant testimony presented by both sides in litigation is critical to due process and a fair trial. The experience and first-hand knowledge of a witness matters to a judge and jury. The inability to present evidence at a trial can change a verdict. In addition to violating principles of academic freedom and the First Amendment, the UF conflict-of-interest policy has consequences for justice.

Bringing down the costs of public records

The Florida constitution guarantees a right of access to public records to every person. However, special service charges for public records restrict access to requestors with the financial resources to pay for requests — or the the means to bring a lawsuit to challenge an unreasonable charge.

Some states and the federal Freedom of Information Act waive fees for requests made in the public interest. Pursuant to FOIA, a request is in the public interest if the request is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of government. It has been argued that waiving fees would overwhelm the agency.

FAF believes a law adopting fee waivers for nonprofits, academic researchers, and journalists would be good for Florida. FAF staff attorney, Virginia Hamrick, reviewed logs of public records requests made to five Florida agencies and found that only 14% would be entitled to a fee waiver for request made in the public interest by nonprofit organizations or journalists. Just 4% of the total request made to these agencies were by journalists. A fee waiver for request made in the public interest would have a minimal effect on agencies.

Read More.

Why support FAF on Giving Tuesday? Because when you support us, you support open and transparent government in Florida. Your money supports our efforts to curtail the number of exemptions to Florida's public records laws and enables staff to assist journalists and individuals acquire public records. Your gifts on Giving Tuesday, an international day of generosity, will allow FAF to educate the public on their right to know and advocate for Government in the Sunshine. Please make FAF one of your top five nonprofit considerations for year-end giving.

Give online Tuesday, Nov. 30.

Investigation finds city officials violated public records laws

Broward County's Inspector General found Deerfield Beach city employees violated the public records law and failed to provide records that would have exposed the city's misspending of health care costs. The Office of Inspector General report notes that one of the documents withheld contained "potentially explosive information that would have provided fodder to critics" of the city.

Read the investigation findings and the Sun Sentinel's reporting on the county's investigation.


After nearly three months of failing to respond to a public records request from a reporter, a state agency finally released the records -- but only after FAF reached out to the agency and reminded the agency of the limited reasons for delay and the agency's duty to respond to requests in good faith.

Have a question about government records or meetings? You can reach FAF at 850-222-3518.

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