Florida's open government laws have long been the envy of other states and indeed other nations struggling toward the transparency their citizens deserve. We have set national and international standards on this vital issue, but these days, the Sunshine State isn't looking so bright. Over the past year, the governance of Florida has been clouded by a perfect storm of negative press, an ominous convergence of investigative reports that accurately expose our state's unacceptable deterioration – among the worst of the worst in terms of access, transparency and public corruption.
Despite our reputation for having the best, most effective open government laws in the United States, Florida received a miserable D+ for access to government information in the State Integrity Investigation, a collaborative project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. Florida received a perfect score for our laws guaranteeing access to government records, but in scoring whether those laws are effectively enforced, we barely managed a passing grade. There is no agency in Florida responsible for enforcing our right of access to government information, which means that a citizen wrongly denied access to government information is sidelined into civil court to force agency compliance with the constitutional right of access.
Barbara A. Petersen is president of the First Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Tallahassee, FL, which acts as an advocate of the public's right to oversee its government. She can be reached at 800/337-3518.