The Press Club of Southwest Florida (NPC) has gone on record with Florida legislators—Representative Greg Steube and Senator Rene Garcia—in opposition to HB 1021 and SB 1220. These bills, if passed as currently constituted, would severely restrict the ability of people to be awarded payment of their attorney’s fees if they win a lawsuit upholding their right to have access to public records. Such a restriction could substantially hinder the public’s right to know and hamper their efforts to keep our elected officials accountable. What private citizens would mount lawsuits if they may have to dig deep to pay their lawyers even when they win the suit? What attorney would take a case if he stands a chance of not getting paid even when his client prevails in court?
The press club understands that the bills might have been created to eliminate frivolous lawsuits. If that is the only intent, then the wording of the bills needs to be amended. If the intent is to keep private citizens and journalists from ferreting out official malfeasance and corruption — and these bills become statutes — our democracy is in danger.
These bills go too far. Legislators need to do more work on this issue so citizens, businesses and journalists are not left vulnerable and without realistic paths to enforce their rights to public records under the law and the Florida Constitution.
Please contact your Florida legislators and ask them to withdraw or amend these bills. You can find contact information at FloridaFAF.org/legislature/contact-your-legislator.
NPC has always supported and will continue to favor journalists’ and citizens’ open and affordable access to public records.
Carole J Greene
Press Club of Southwest Florida President