Advocates decry Florida bill ending automatic fees for public records violations

Local government leaders in Florida are battling with open-government advocates over legislation that would leave it up to a judge to award attorney’s fees in public-records cases.

The bill (SB 1220) passed through a Senate panel Tuesday by a unanimous 3-0 vote, and the House version of the bill (HB 1021) won a committee’s approval on Monday.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, the Senate bill’s sponsor, said he’s only targeting a “cottage industry” of lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits on behalf of people filing “gotcha” requests with understaffed small local governments, not legitimate public records requests. “No one’s talking about the other side, when municipalities incur costs of their own attorney fees when they are frivolous cases,” Garcia said. “We’re only talking about one side.”

But Barbara Petersen, president of the news-media backed First Amendment Foundation, said the proposal “eviscerates our constitutional right of access by removing our ability to be assured of getting reimbursed for attorney’s fees when government has violated our rights.” Continue…