Legislature passes bill shielding personal information in crash reports from public records requests

upset man after car crash
Proponents say the bill's goal is to reduce identity theft.

The Legislature Tuesday passed a measure that would exempt from Florida’s open records law certain personal information contained in crash reports.

The bill (SB 1614) passed the House Tuesday with only Rep. Anna V. Eskamani voting “no.” It passed the Senate last week 35-3 and now awaits the Governor’s signature before becoming law. 

Currently, personal information on crash reports and traffic citations are exempt from public record laws for 60 days. Certain exemptions apply to people involved in a crash, their lawyers, insurance agents, law enforcement and members of the media.

The bill extends that 60-day limit indefinitely. Information like a driver’s date of birth, driver’s license number, address excluding the five-digit zip code, telephone number, motor vehicle license plate number and trailer tag number would be exempt from public record.

The measure also limits which members of the media can access information on a report. Media members won’t be able to access home or work addresses or telephone numbers, dates of birth or driver’s license and identification numbers.

Supporters of the bill, like Macclenny Republican Rep. Chuck Brannan, said the bill is needed to protect Floridians from fraud and identity theft.

“Protecting personal identifying information is important in a time when identity theft and fraud are really issues that we all face,” Brannan said last month. “The gateway to fraud is committing identity theft.”

But opponents warn the bill is part of efforts to chip away at Florida’s broad open records laws. Press freedom advocates and the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board have spoken against the bill, arguing it could “be used to hide evidence of unfairly favorable (or harassing) behavior by police, and thwart researchers who want to analyze records in an attempt to make state roads safer.”

Rep. Joseph Geller supported the bill with caution.

“This is a laudable idea,” he said. “But I believe the exemption is broader than it needs to be. Public records exemptions should always be as narrowly tailored as possible and unfortunately, I think this one could be narrower than it is. There’s a lot of good stuff here, but we can’t keep stuff from the public they have a right to.”

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected].


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