Florida legislators last Monday sent Gov. Charlie Crist a package of 45 bills, among them House Bill 551, which seeks to amend exemptions to Florida’s public records law by overriding municipalities’ ability to release information related to local ethics investigations.

The law — which unanimously passed both legislative chambers — adds to a list of public records exemptions “the complaint and records relating to the complaint or to any preliminary investigation” generated “by any county or municipality that has established a local investigatory process to enforce more stringent standards of conduct and disclosure requirements.” The amendment effectively bars local governments from releasing information related to alleged ethical violations, even if local statutes set a higher standard for disclosure than state ones.

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, concludes that the local ethics violation information will

be exempted from public-record and public-meeting requirements until the complaint is dismissed as legally insufficient, until the alleged violator requests in writing that such records and proceedings be made public, or until it is determined, based on the investigation, whether probable cause exists to believe that a violation has occurred. This exemption is necessary because the release of such information could potentially be defamatory to an individual under investigation, cause unwarranted damage to the good name or reputation of such individual, or significantly impair the investigation.

Read the full bill here:

Florida House Bill 551

I’ve placed a call to Eisnaugle’s office for clarification on what prompted the bill, and how it would specifically impact local investigations. I’ll update the story when I hear from him. Gov. Crist must either sign the bill into law or veto it by June 1.

Photo of Rep. Eric Eisnaugle by Mark Foley

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