News & Features » News

Sunshine law's eclipse?


Two bills filed in the state House aim to curtail the state's public-records law. HB 43, filed by Rep. Lindsay Harrington (R-Punta Gorda), would close all public access to identifying information on motor-vehicle records while allowing private investigators, rental-car companies, insurance companies and others exempted under the state Driver Protection and Privacy Act to keep access.

An aid to Harrington (who according to state records has a clean driving history) said the legislator wrote the bill in reaction to a story about a convicted sex offender who was using driving records to find the addresses of young girls in his town. The other bill, HB 51, filed by Rep. Sally Heyman (D-N. Miami), would require records requesters to provide proof of identity.

Barbara Petersen, a records-law watchdog in Tallahassee, says both bills are unconstitutional. "What Rep. Harrington is trying to do is kill a fly with a sledgehammer," she says. She says a bill she authored in 1994 offers a better remedy by increasing the penalties for crime committed using public information.

Petersen says that Heyman's bill is worse than Harrington's because it would have a chilling effect. "I always encourage people to put it writing if they don't mind," Petersen says. "But if it's a citizen activist who thinks the city council is corrupt ... it also gives the official a chance to treat their request differently."