Lawmakers approve attorney fee tweak to public record law


Lawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed a compromise measure on winners of public records lawsuits collecting attorney fees, sending the bill to Gov. Rick Scott.

The House passed the Senate bill (SB 80) on a 115-0 vote.

The legislation requires judges to award attorney fees if they find an agency broke the public records law and a “requestor” gave five days’ notice before filing suit.

Most importantly, a judge must determine if a request was for an “improper purpose,” such as intentionally forcing an agency to break the records law or for a “frivolous” reason.

Local governments have for years complained they’ve been bombarded by frivolous public records requests in order to provide an excuse for requesters to take them to court. Current law requires state and local agencies to cover the cost of attorney fees in public records cases.

Open government watchdogs, such as the First Amendment Foundation, countered that previous legislative fixes would have hurt legitimate actions against local governments and state agencies that unreasonably refuse to respond to record requests.

“The bill is a compromise, certainly, and I hope it deals with the issue of the predatory public record requests without unduly hindering those who simply want the records they’ve requested,” said Barbara Petersen, the First Amendment Foundation’s president.

“I see this as a first step — the Legislature needs to consider passage of a enforcement mechanism so that those who’ve been wrongly denied access to public records have an alternative other than going to court,” she added. 

If Scott signs it into law, it won’t apply retroactively, Petersen said, meaning that it doesn’t affect any pending public record request.

Jim Rosica

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 [email protected]


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Joe Henderson, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Gray Rohrer, Aimee Sachs, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn