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First Amendment advocate scolds Senate for violating open government rules

In a letter to Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, scolded the Senate for violating "both the spirit of open government and Senate rules" when three senators discussed the state budget  at a private meeting with the governor this week.

Scott invited Senators J.D. Alexander, Don Gaetz and Andy Gardiner to dinner at the mansion Monday night, just hours after unveiling his $65.9 billion budget plan. He also invited two reporters, who later reported that the group discussed the state budget, property insurance, low income housing and other legislative business. Senate rules require that meetings between more than two senators in which pending legislation is discussed "shall be open to the public."  Alexander, R-Lake Wales, is chairman of the Senate budget committee.

"We recognize that the Legislature has the sole authority to interpret, implement and enforce the access provisions of Article II, s. (4)e of the State Constitution,'' Petersen wrote. "We acknowledge the governor's invitations to private dinners have placed senators in a difficult position. Nevertheless, we know that you are committed to open government and that you respect the importance of public oversight of government action.

"We request that you ensure that meetings of more than two legislators at which legislative business is discussed be noticed and held in locations that are open to the public. We also request that you stress to the rest of the Senate the importance of complying broadly with Florida's commitment to open government and, more specifically with the Florida Constituion, state law and Senate rules." Download Haridopolos[1]

Haridopolos, who last month removed the door of his office to demonstrate his commitment to open government, and Gaetz said they disagreed with the First Amendment Foundation position. The foundation is a .non-profit open government watchdog funded by Florida newspapers and broadcasters.

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