How it Works
Requesting a Record
Attending a Meeting
Frequently Asked Questions
Requesting a Record:
According to Florida Law, any person may request any public record and does not need to state a reason of rhte request or provide identification. A request can be either verbal or in written form. Making a request in written form can be more helpful to keep track of which records you requested in case they are denied to you.
When seeking out information, it is best to be as specific as possible to ensure you receive the proper information. For example, rather than requesting all the information an agency has on John Smith, it is more effective to ask for specific information, such as a person’s driving record. To make a request, you must first determine which agency holds the type of information you are seeking. Once the agency is determined, you can make a request to the records custodian of that agency explaining the information you wish to receive.
The records custodian must provide all information that is not specifically exempt by the law. If information is exempt, the custodian must provide a reason for why that record cannot be released. If only a portion of the information you requested is exempt, for example a name on a report, then the name may be excluded but the report should still be provided.
If a government agency knowingly denies public information to a requester, they may be found guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree. If a person believes there has been a violation of the Public Records Law, they can seek a court order to force the release of the records. Citizens can also bring suit against a government entity which they believe is in violation of the Public Records Law. If the entity is found guilty, the person filing the suit may be entitled to recovery attorney’s fees from the entity.
To locate and make a copy of a record, a custodian may charge a fee to the requester. According to the law, a custodian may charge the actual cost of duplicating the record, as well as addition costs is the record requires extensive work to locate and/or copy. Fees should be reasonable.
Attending a Meeting:
The Sunshine Law allows for citizens to attend and observe meetings of any governmental decision-making agency. That includes meetings of elected governmental officials as well as appointed and advisory boards. The law also applies to unofficial meetings of discussions where two or more members of a governmental body meet to discuss issues that may be decided or voted on at a later time.
The law also provides that such meetings are properly announced to the public, allowing enough time for anyone interested to attend the meeting. And if you cannot attend a meeting, meeting minutes that are required to be taken at all public meetings can be requested at a later time.
In addition to government meetings, most judicial proceedings in the state of Florida are open for the public to attend. Many documents that are filed with the court, as well as transcripts of the trials, are also available to the public.
To see when and where a public meeting will be held for a specific entity, it is best to check with that entities website. For example, if you are interested in attending a meeting of the Board of Trustees for the University of Florida, you can visit their website for a listing. Or perhaps you are interested in attending a School Board of Alachua County meeting. Again, their meetings are listed on their website.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Can anyone request a public record?
A: Yes, according to the law, any person can make a public records request. No reason or identification must be provided in order for the request to be processed.
Q: What are some examples of records that are available to the public in the state of Florida?
A: A few of the documents that are available for public inspection include salaries of most government employees, portions of crime reports, county budgets, e-mail messages sent or received by government officials in connection with business, and written documents circulated by government entities.
Q: What are some examples of records that are exempt from the Public Records Law?
A: Portions of documents that include indentifying information are often exempt from all records. Other examples of exempt information includes medical records, autopsy photographs, tax information, nursing home reports, student educational records, and information pertaining to on-going criminal cases.
Q: Do all public meetings have to be noticed?
A: According to the law, yes. If an agency does not provide sufficient notice of meetings that should be open to the public, they may be in violation of the Open Meetings Law.
Q: Can new exemptions be added to the law?
A: Yes, new exemptions can be passed by the legislature every session. To pass a new exemption or continue a previous exemption, a two-thirds vote is now required by the legislature in an attempt to pass fewer exemptions. To keep track of legislative bills and amendments, visit the Florida Legislature's website at http://www.leg.state.fl.us/.