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First Amendment Foundation raises concerns about Constitution commission's 'lesser' openness standards

Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, is asking the the Constitution Revision Commission to amend its proposed rules to bring the commission into line with existing law regarding open meetings and public records.

The 37-member commission, which meets today for the first time in an organizational session, has drafted rules that depart from the existing Sunshine law, which is intended to apply to public officials -- including appointed boards and commissions.

"Given the gravity and importance of the work of the Commission and its impact on citizens across the state, we would expect the CRC to hold itself to the highest standards of transparency, allowing all Floridians to oversee the work of the Commission and hold it accountable for its actions,'' Peterson wrote in a letter to commission chair Carlos BeruffDownload Response to CRC Proposed Rule

Specifically, she said: 

"Rule 1.23, Public Records, states, “All records of the Commission shall be accessible to the public unless otherwise exempted by law.” (Emphasis added.) The rules of the previous CRC used the phrase “open to the public,” which comports with the statement of public policy found in s. 119.01(1), F.S. and s. 11.0431, F.S., stating that “public records shall be open to personal inspection and copying at reasonable times . . .” We respectfully suggest Rule 1.23 be amended to follow the standard articulated in Florida statutes.

"In addition, we have concerns regarding Rule 1.24 relating to meetings of the CRC. Specifically, Rule 1.24 adopts the legislative standard under Article III, s. 4(e) that states that meetings between three or more CRC members at which Commission business is discussed must be open. This is a lesser standard than that found in Article I, s. 24(b) requiring that meetings between two or more members of a collegial body be opened and noticed to the public. We should note that the higher standard under Article I applies to every collegial body in Florida except the Florida legislature, and we strongly urge the CRC to adopt the Article I standard rather than the weaker legislative standard."

(The First Amendment Foundation is a non-profit advocate of open government and open records. The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times are members.)

This was initially posted at 12:15 p.m. and we sought the comment of the CRC staff. At 9:23 p.m., Chairman Beruff issued the following comment: 

“Transparency is of the utmost importance to the Commission and all meetings will be noticed and open to the public. I look forward to working with the Commissioners to adopt rules which reflect the importance of transparency and ensure total public access and involvement throughout this process.”​