The Florida Sunshine Laws

 

In 1909, Florida passed its first “Public Records Law.” In 1967, the Government in the Sunshine Law was passed. This is the law that is most commonly known. It provides that "citizens will have access to most meetings of boards, commissions and other governing bodies of state and local governmental agencies or authorities."

When it was first enacted, the law only included traditional written materials. Over the years, it has evolved to include tapes, photographs, film, sound recordings and records stored in computers. This evolution has occurred because the law is constantly being challenged. There is much conflict over what is considered a public record and the law is continuously modified to include the new considerations.

The law provides that anyone who wants to see a public record need only ask. When the law was first implemented, one merely had to go down to the proper office and request to see the record. With the invention of the Internet, the records have become more readily available. The law provides for the availability of records online. It states that “As an additional means of inspecting, examining, and copying public records of the executive branch, judicial branch, or any political subdivision of the state, public records custodians may provide access to the records by remote electronic means.” This basically states that whoever is responsible for the records can provide access to them online. It is not a requirement yet.

There may be a charge for anyone requesting copies of public records. The Sunshine Law gives specific limits on what can be charged for copies. They are allowed to charge "no more than 15 cents per one-sided copy, and for all other copies, the actual cost of duplication." If the records are available online, the custodian may charge a fee for remote electronic access, unless otherwise required by law.

The Sunshine laws do not apply to the state legislature. While their meetings are still open to the public, it is provided for in the state constitution. In section 4b of the state constitution, it states “sessions of each house shall be public; except sessions of the senate when considering appointment to or removal from public office may be closed.” Another way the legislature differs in the availability of records and meetings is that each individual house is responsible for interpreting, implementing and enforcing these rules.