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First Amendment Foundation Says Legislative Bills On Public Record Exemptions 'Too Broad'

Mar 8, 2019

Florida is known for providing easy access to public records. But Barbara Petersen of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation says the 2019 legislative session is remarkable for the broad records exemptions bills that are being filed.

That includes one that addresses access to information involving mass shootings, such as the one at Parkland.

“My concern is that the way the Victims of Mass Violence bill is written, it's so broad, that we might not get the video of Nikolas Cruz walking into the school with a gun,” Petersen said. “We might not get the video of school resource officer Scot Peterson hiding behind a tree.”

Petersen says that video was only obtained after a number of news organizations got together and sued for access.  The lawsuit cost more than $100,000.

She says access to public records is critical to holding police and government accountable. 

Petersen says she understands what lawmakers are trying to do, but they may not understand the effects such legislation might have. And she's uneasy with government policing itself. 

“And it's not that we don't trust them, but," she laughed,"as Ronald Reagan said, 'trust but verify.'"

"Why are we creating all of these public records exemptions - now some of them are justified, but not all of them and not enough of them,” Petersen said.