FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business


Too Broad

Last year, in its haste to put together a deal to bring the Scripps Research Institute to Florida, state legislators passed a law that carved a giant exemption in the public records law for the deal, citing the need to protect things like sensitive research and recruiting information.

But the nine-page exemption is so broad, public records advocates say, that it allows very little public oversight of the more than $500 million in tax money being used for the deal.

Barbara Petersen, president of the Tallahassee-based open government watchdog organization the First Amendment Foundation, is still waiting for the legislators who promised they'd come back and narrow the law.

"They always promise that, and they never do," she says. Petersen says the foundation will sue if necessary. But she's hoping the upcoming legislative session will produce a bill to narrow the exemption.

"We'd like the Legislature to do the right thing," she says.

Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach, one of the sponsors of the original Scripps bill, agrees that the exemption may be too broad. But he says when he approached Sen. President Jim King about narrowing the law last year, King was unwilling.

Klein says the law "may need a little bit of review." But he says the 2005 session may be too soon. "I'm not going to foreclose that it could be done this year," he says. "It's possible."