The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has some lawmakers thinking differently about a bill to exempt the personal information of state legislators from Florida’s public record laws.
Members of the House Government Operations Subcommittee approved the bill in a 12-4 vote with a handful of lawmakers changing their initial positions on the legislation, citing the violence seen during the Capitol riot.
“A year ago, I would have thought that that’s absurd, then Jan. 6 happened,” said Miami-Dade Democratic Rep. Kevin Chambliss, who ultimately supported the bill. “And that was real, there was intent — intent to take people hostage … I can’t consider that an extreme thought anymore, especially where I live and especially with what I do.”
The proposal (HB 1207), filed by Hillsborough County Republican Rep. Mike Beltran, would shield from public disclosure the home addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth of current legislators and Cabinet members.
But, if the bill’s first hearing in the House provides any insight into how lawmakers are feeling about the proposal, it may have a bit more grounding this year, especially with the recent showcase of political violence fresh on the minds of lawmakers.
“We saw what happened in the Capitol, at least at the Capitol you had some some kind of security, you had some kind of reinforced doors, you had somebody to protect you,” Beltran said to the committee. “If you’re at home, maybe you own a gun, maybe you have a security system, but you certainly don’t have the protections that we enjoy here.”
Several lawmakers spoke about receiving threats and framed the legislation as a proactive, protective measure for lawmakers to opt-in to.
“We take very important stances on issues we take important votes on issues, and our families should not be subject to domestic terrorists,” said committee chair Rep. Jason Fischer, who narrated personal experiences in handling threats. “I would just urge every one of you who care about your colleagues and care about the safety of them and their family to support this bill.”
Despite the change in tone for some lawmakers, others remained vocal about the proposal’s potential to make it near impossible for members of the press or public to confirm that an individual is running in their proper district.
“I sympathize with some of the arguments that I’m hearing. We’re all elected officials and we all get criticized — some more than others,” said Orange County Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. “The reality is that we take an oath, not only to respect and uphold the Constitution; we also make an attestation the we live within our districts. Sometimes politicians are not honest in that attestation, and it would make it very easy for there to be a lot more shenanigans than we are currently seeing.”
The bill still faces opposition from First Amendment advocates, who are wary about more exemptions.
The Florida AFL-CIO, which also appeared at the bill’s first committee last year, spoke against the bill at the meeting.
“Everyone here chose to run for office — you work hard to run for office, members of your community, they deserve to know certain things about you, like where you live, what community you are from, the neighborhood you live in,” said Richard Templin, for Florida AFL-CIO. “This is all information that is part of the democratic process for people to decide who they want representing them in the Florida House.”
The House bill is now on to its second of three committees.