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House beats back shroud over Florida’s open meeting law

A change that critics said will neuter the state’s Sunshine Laws by allowing any two elected officials of a local governing body to meet without notice in private failed in the House on Tuesday.

The bill (HB 843), filed by Naples Republican Byron Donalds, received a vote of 68-48—less than the two-thirds needed to change the open meetings law.

It was likely dead on arrival in the Senate, anyway: A companion measure carried by Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley has not been heard this Legislative Session. The annual session is scheduled to end Friday.

It would have let two members of a board of five or more members to “discuss public business” without it being an official public meeting.

The caveat is they cannot “take any formal action, or agree to do so at a future meeting,” the bill says.

The law now says “all meetings” must be noticed and open to the public. In debate, members from both parties opposed the measure.

“We should not turn our back on the right of the public to know how their business is being conducted,” said Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat.

Added Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns Republican and former county commissioner: “It’s so easy for deals to be made if we’re not in the Sunshine.”

Rep. Byron Donalds, the Naples Republican who filed the legislation, said the current law assumes that all elected officials “are bad actors.”

“Or should we treat them as we treat ourselves,” he said in debate. Any two state lawmakers can meet privately.

“They should be able to freely assemble … It’s hypocritical for us to meet one on one, and they cannot,” he added. Now, “the unelected staff members are running the show; they’re influencing the debate.”

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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