About the Brechner Center

"The Brechner Center is an invaluable, hands-on resource not only for working journalists -- but for future journalists, as well. For my journalism courses at the University of Miami, I copy large sections of Brechner's A Citizen's Guide to Government in the Sunshine for students, and heavily cite the Guide's contents while lecturing on the importance of Florida's Public Records Law."

Ronnie Greene,
Veteran investigative reporter & Urban Affairs Editor, The Miami Herald
Adjunct Professor of Journalism, University of Miami

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


Terrorism’s Effects on Freedom of Information

1. How have State Records and Meetings Access changed since Sept. 11, 2001?

2. Which proposals after 9/11 did not succeed and why?

3. Which exemptions deal specifically with security?

4. Does the State Senate President have the authority to close portions of meetings and records because of security concerns?


1. How have State Records and Meetings Access changed since Sept. 11, 2001?

Florida was inundated with news coverage after the attacks because some of the terrorists lived in the state, had driver's licenses and took flight lessons. There are usually seven to ten public records exemptions passed a year, bringing the grand total to 903. Only six exemptions passed since Sept. 11 are specifically for security and four of them were passed immediately after the attacks. Other exemptions were proposed in the special sessions after 9/11, but they died in committee or along the way, and if they were proposed again during regular 2002 session, they were killed again.

There were 14 new exemptions passed in 2004, but only one dealt directly with security: blueprints. Five new exemptions were passed in 2003 including the special one for the Scripps project, but none dealt with security issues. And of the ten new exemptions passed in the 2002 session, only one related to the security of blueprints. The 2001 regular session ended before Sept. 11, but special sessions were held to balance the budget and during that time, four of the new security exemptions were signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. (Preceding from Florida First Amendment Foundation data)

There has been no real spike since then in the number of exemptions passed since Sept. 11. There was a rush of proposals to close records, but most of the records people sought to limit access to were already exempt.

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2. Which proposals after 9/11 did not succeed and why?
• A proposal to allow the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to direct another agency to withhold a normally available public record, such as driving or court records, for up to a week, with court approval. (an aside: this bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville) Florida Senate

• A proposal to require flight plans for crop dusters, but they don’t file flight plans so the legislature couldn’t exempt what didn’t exist.

• A proposal requiring information on crop dusters themselves, but they advertise in the Yellow Pages so you can see them in the phone book but can’t find them through the Department of Agriculture.

• A proposal exempting seaport and airport security systems, but they were already exempt from public record.

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3. Which exemptions deal specifically with security?
The six records exemptions that deal specifically with security are:

*All bill information found at Florida Senate Web site

Session: 2001 C
• S0016 Security-system Plan: exempts from public-records requirements security-system plans or portion thereof; provides exemption for public-meeting requirements for those portions of any meeting which would reveal security-system plan or portion thereof which is confidential & exempt under this act; provides for future review & repeal; provides statement of public necessity.

• S 018 Emergency-management: Creates Fla. Stat. 395.1056, which exempts from public-records requirements those portions of comprehensive emergency-management plans that address the response of public or private hospitals to an act of terrorism. Further, it creates an exemption for those portions of said plan which address response of public hospital to said act and exempts from public-meeting requirements any portion of a public meeting which would reveal information contained in said plan.

• S022 Law Enforcement: Exempts a request by a law enforcement agency from another agency for information from public entity is exempt; provides that response of public entity to law enforcement agency for information is exempt; provides for future repeal & review; provides statement of public necessity.

• S020 Pharmaceutical: provides that any information identifying or describing name, location, pharmaceutical cache, contents, capacity, equipment, physical features, or capabilities of individual medical facilities, storage facilities, or laboratories established, maintained, or regulated by Health Department in response to act of terrorism are exempt from public-records requirements; provides for future review & repeal; provides statement of public necessity.

Session: 2002
• CS/HB 735 Security System Plans: creates a public record exemption for building plans, blueprints, schematic drawings, and diagrams depicting the internal layout and structural elements of a building, arena, stadium, water treatment facility, or other structure owned or operated by an agency. Allows public access upon court order and a showing of good cause. Stipulates that the exemption applies retroactively.

Session: 2004
• CS/HB 317 Blueprints and Building Plans: creates a public record exemption for building plans, blueprints, schematic drawings and diagrams, including drafts and preliminary formats, which depict the internal or external layout or structural elements of an attractions and recreation facility, entertainment/resort complex, industrial complex, retail and service development, office development, and hotel or motel development. Provides definitions. Allows disclosure of the exempt records upon showing of good cause and court order. Stipulates that the exemption does not apply to comprehensive plans or site plans, or amendments to such plans, under local land development regulations, local zoning regulations, or development-of-regional impact review.

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4. Does the State Senate President have the authority to close portions of meetings and records because of security concerns?

Another legislative event after 9/11, unrelated to specifically passed exemptions, caused concern in the state. On October 25, 2001, the Florida Senate approved by voice vote an amendment to its rules. The change allows the Senate president to close portions of meetings "concerning measures to address security, espionage, sabotage, attack and other acts of terrorism."

The rule change also closes “records, research, information, remarks, and staff work products, made or received during or in preparation for a closed meeting … for a period of 30 days after the closed meeting" at which point the records become automatically open. The Senate president, and every Senate president after that term, has the authority to close the records for another five years.

The rule was used March 6, 2003 when for the first time since 1967, Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, agreed to close a meeting of the Senate Home Defense, Public Security and Ports Committee, a 10-member panel that reviewed a security system. (“SENATE PANEL TO CONVENE IN SECRET; STATE "SUNSHINE" RULES SUSPENDED FOR DISCUSSION OF FDLE SECURITY SYSTEM.” The Lakeland Ledger. March 6, 2003.)

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5. So what stopped this landslide of proposals from becoming exemptions?

The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, the First Amendment Foundation along with 35 state newspapers participated in the "Sunshine Sunday" initiative, which began in 2002 to stress the importance of maintaining an open government. And in Fall 2002 a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority of each house of the Legislature to approve new exemptions to Florida's open-meetings and public-records laws, passed with 77 percent approval from Florida voters. (“Florida newspapers, broadcasters unite over public records bills,” The Associated Press. March 15, 2003)

Charles Davis, executive director of the Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri, said in a May 2002 news story that only six states have narrowed public records laws since Sept. 11: Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Virginia and Washington. The fact that 44 states did not follow suit is an indication of the restraint many state lawmakers showed. (“Public records are tougher to view since Sept. 11,” The Associated Press. May 4, 2002.)

• For other perspectives of terrorism and open government, visit The Knight Foundation