TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Legislation filed for consideration during Florida's 2020 legislative session would bar the disclosure of lawmakers' home addresses, phone numbers, birthdates and the workplaces of their relatives.
Should it become law, it would represent a significant erosion of the state's Sunshine Law. However, the measure's sponsor argues it is necessary for personal safety.
Here's 5 questions asked and answered regarding the proposed legislation and its chances of getting passed:
1. What has prompted the legislation?
The sponsor of SB 832, Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), says the increasingly heated rhetoric — including threats of physical violence — in America's political sphere is threatening the safety of public officials. By blocking the release of the four data points, she argues, it would be more difficult for would-be perpetrators to cause lawmakers harm.
2. What do critics say?
The proposal's opponents warn that such a sweeping public records exemption would prevent the public oversight necessary to prevent abuses of power by elected officials.
In the view of Ben Wilcox of the government watchdog group Integrity Florida, "The public needs to know the legislator who is sponsoring bills that favor a certain industry and their spouse works in that industry, so essentially they're benefiting themselves personally through their public actions."
3. Which example of a potential conflict of interest to critics cite?
Wilcox points to the headline-grabbing case of House Speaker-turned-Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran championing charter school expansion legislation that, some have argued, directly benefits his wife, a charter school founder.
While Corcoran denies a conflict of interest exists, Wilcox says the public needs access to certain information — including the workplaces of lawmakers' spouses — to make informed judgments for themselves.
4. Why are legislators' addresses relevant?
Under state law, legislators must live in the districts they run to represent. In recent years, some lawmakers have been removed from office after revelations surfaced that they did not, in fact, live in the districts they represented. The public availability of lawmakers' home addresses helps root out and prevent violations of the residency requirement.
5. What happens next?
The legislation has been referred to three Senate committees and has yet to receive a hearing. With over a month remaining before the start of the legislative session, there is no House companion bill.