FIRST AMENDMENT FOUNDATION NEWSLETTER
October 5, 2020 
Wed, Oct 21, 2020 7:30 PM EST
Derision 2020 Unmasked and Dangerous
As our election frenzy builds, it’s high time for some political hilarity with Derision 2020, starring two of Florida’s favorite sons: Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry – LIVE, unfiltered, and unmoderated. One night only, a virtual event: think of it as a date night with the best seat in YOUR house.

Join the First Amendment Foundation for an enlightening and hilarious look at the current state of politics as the presidential election approaches. All ticket proceeds support the First Amendment Foundation and its mission to strengthen and inspire public participation in democracy.

Due to COVID-19, we have not been able to have large in-person fundraisers to support our operation. This will be one of two virtual events which will enable us to support local, state, and national reporting, while educating the public on their right of access to government proceedings and records. We need your support to make it a success. If you are unable to tune in October 21, please consider donating. 
In this issue:
  • LISTEN to Episode Five of FAF Podcast "Open Government in Florida" featuring Sheriff Michael Chitwood on building Community Trust and Police Accountability, the misuse of Marsy's Law by law enforcement, and the importance of receiving accurate data from government during COVID-19.
  • READ why FAF would support legislation to "sunset" over 20 Trade Secret Exemptions and draft one uniform Trade Secret Law.
  • BIG VICTORY: FAF contributes to release of School COVID data
NEW PODCAST EPISODE:
 
"Open Government in Florida" Talks with The Transparency Sheriff: Sheriff Michael Chitwood of Volusia County
In our fifth episode of “Open Government in Florida,” FAF President Pamela Marsh talks with Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood. As police chief of Daytona Beach, Mike Chitwood became the first police chief in Florida to require his officers to wear body cameras. First Amendment Foundation president, Pamela Marsh, sits down with Sheriff Chitwood to talk about how the use of body cameras has increased officer accountability and improved the department's relationship with the community. Sheriff Chitwood weighs in on why Marsy's Law was not intended to protect law enforcement officers. Finally, we discuss the need for access to accurate COVID-19 data to protect Florida's first responders, students, and teachers. 

"It takes a minute to be kind. It really takes a lot of effort to be a knucklehead." --Sheriff Mike Chitwood

All episodes of "Open Government in Florida" can be found on:

 
And of course, you can find all prior episodes at the Podcast Tab on the FAF website: www.floridafaf.org

If you like what you hear, please rate, review, and share our podcast! 
 

We welcome your ideas regarding future guests and topics at info@floridafaf.org.
FAF Supports Sunsetting Scattered "Trade Secret" Exemptions
The Open Government Sunset Review Act requires the Legislature to review each public record and each public meeting exemption 5 years after enactment. This legislative session, there are at least 28 exemptions up for review under the OGSR Act. Of these exemptions, 21 deal with trade secrets or proprietary business information. We believe that it is time to let these scattered exemptions sunset in exchange for a uniform law defining trade secrets.
 
For years, Florida agencies have refused to release information related to contract bids and terms claiming the information was an exempted trade secret. Recently, the Agency of Health Care Administration refused to release records showing how much Deloitte Consulting bid on a $135 million contract to oversee the state’s Medicaid data. The agency announced the contract – and refused to release the bid amounts – just months after another Deloitte project, the CONNECT unemployment system, failed during the pandemic. Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized the company and speculated that it won because Deloitte “dropped the price by so much that under current law” that the agency’s “hands were tied.”
 
But, as the Tampa Bay Times pointed out, that claim is impossible to verify. The public is in the dark regarding Deloitte’s bid because of that trade secret claim.
 
The contract awarded to Virginia-based contractor, Maximus, Inc. for COVID-19 contact tracing in Florida has also been shrouded in secrecy. According to a Maximus spokesperson, "It is very typical for contracts to have modifications such as an extension to take services beyond the initial contract period or changes in staffing needs to adjust for volumes. In this case, the total value will likely range between $65 million and $75 million.” But no one will disclose the terms or the full cost of the work. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber explained “I don’t know if we’re getting what we’re paying for because they’re [FL Dept. of Health] not keeping track of what kind of job they’re doing."

Similar stories abound. The state’s tourism marketing corporation, Visit Florida, refused to release details of a contract between the agency and rapper Pitbull to promote the state. Although Pitbull himself eventually revealed on social media how much the state paid him, he announced terms of his $1 million contract only after the Florida House of Representatives sued him for the information. 
 
The release of true trade secret information could harm businesses and may deter some private companies from bidding on public contracts if their trade secrets are released to the public. Yet, this exemption – like all public records exemptions – should be narrowly construed. If a contract has already been awarded, a business no longer has an advantage in hiding the amount of its bid. And the taxpayer deserves to know.
 
In recent years, there has been an effort in the Florida legislature to provide a consistent definition of trade secrets. Last year’s HB 799 would have repealed most trade secret exemptions and provided a uniform trade secret exemption. Moreover, according to the bill analysis, this legislation would have specifically excluded certain information from the definition of trade secrets, including: the parties to a contract or agreement; the amount of money paid, payment structure or plan, expenditures, incentives, bonuses, fees, or penalties; nature or type of commodities or services purchased; and applicable contract unit prices. In addition, a party claiming the trade secret exemption would have been required by HB 799 to give notice and verify the trade secret by signing a written declaration under penalty of perjury. Any party who failed to sign the verification and notice would waive any claim that the record is protected under the law. Importantly, instead of numerous trade secret exemptions, such legislation would provide one uniform trade secret exemption and definition.
 
Floridians have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and how much the state is paying private contractors. With more than 20 trade secret exemptions due to sunset this legislative session, this is an opportune time for the Florida Legislature to let the myriad trade secret exemptions sunset and enact a uniform definition – especially one that excludes the terms of payment from the definition. Agencies should not be able to hide how our tax dollars are spent by shielding contract prices and simple terms behind a claim of trade secrets. The First Amendment Foundation supports efforts to bring this information into the sunlight, simplifying the statutes and making the law clear.
A BIG WIN FOR THE STATE, OUR CHILDREN AND TRANSPARENCY
Last week, the First Amendment Foundation along with a coalition of media organizations successfully pressured the state to disclose school covid-19 data. It was released on Tuesday, September 29. The information released is not perfect, by any measure, and we will keep fighting for more; the information provided begins on September 6 and ends on September 26, while many schools began reopening in August. The government's COVID-19 school data list is also missing some schools.

As reported in the Miami Herald, the school-specific health data was finally released by the Florida Department of Health after our coalition of news organizations threatened to sue Gov. Ron DeSantis for violating the state public records law.

Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration refused to release the information after numerous requests over a month-long span. But our coalition and its tireless lawyers at Thomas & LoCicero kept up the pressure. Initially, state health officials shared the data with local school officials but told them they considered the information confidential.

Obviously, teachers, families and the general public need this information to keep themselves safe. We have to question: what is the point of hiding the truth? 

We are proud to have been a part of these efforts to bring this critical information to you. This is just a part of the important work we do, and how your dollars supporting the First Amendment Foundation make a real difference in our State.
AND IN OTHER OPEN GOVERNMENT NEWS: