Half of Florida lawmakers earn failing grades on open government

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PHOTO VIA FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
  • Photo via Florida House of Representatives
A new scorecard shows half of Florida lawmakers earned failing grades on their support of open meetings and public records in this year's legislative session.

The Associated Press reports 77 lawmakers earns Ds and three earned Fs out of 160 legislators, according to a grading system produced by the Florida Society of News Editors along with Florida's First Amendment Foundation. Out of the remaining lawmakers, 71 earned Cs and nine earned Bs – and no legislator received an A.

"As an advocate for open government, the grades, of course, are disappointing," Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, told the AP.

Florida's public records law says that any records made or received by any public agency are available for public inspection, unless exempted by the Florida Legislature. The state's open government law establishes the public's right to access to local and state meetings. During the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers approved more than 28 new exemptions to Florida's sunshine laws, including a public records exemption for murder witnesses and another bill allowing people who are arrested to request that their booking photograph be removed from mugshot websites. The lowest score on the card went to Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, who sponsored a bill to make searches for public college president secret and another bill to allow two members of a government board to meet in private. Both measures ultimately failed. In Orange County, no lawmaker earned higher than a passing grade, according to the scorecard:

- Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando for District 46: D
- Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee for District 11: C-
- Rep. Kamia L. Brown, D-Ocoee for District 45: D
- Rep. Robert Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs for District 30: D-
- Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando for District 44: C-
- Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando for District 48: C-
- Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park for District 47: D+
- Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando for District 50: D+
- Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando for District 49: C+
- Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando for District 13: C-
- Rep. Jennifer Mae Sullivan, R-Mount Dora for District 31: D+
- Sen. Victor M. Torres Jr., D-Kissimmee for District 15: C

Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized the scorecard for being too simplistic, offering no way to measure a legislator's overall attitude toward open government and giving bonus points to legislators who communicated with the First Amendment Foundation. See the entire scorecard here.

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