TALLAHASSEE, FLA. Concerned about legislative efforts to restrict access to public records, more than half of Florida's daily newspapers published editorials Sunday stressing the importance of maintaining an open government.
"I don't want to characterize it as us versus the Legislature, but one of the roles newspapers play is to galvanize public opinion around issues," said Pat Yack, president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors and editor of The Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville.
The editors group asked each of the state's newspapers to participate in what they called "Sunshine Sunday." The goal was to keep Florida's reputation as a model for open government from slipping away. More than two dozen papers participated.
Some bills before the legislature would block access to crime photos, allow doctors and pharmacists to keep reports about adverse incidents secret, keep public utility records secret and allow officials to meet privately to negotiate contracts.
A Senate committee is considering 15 public records bills today, including the measure on doctors' adverse incident reports.
"We may be in the Information Age, but our Legislature keeps trying to put records containing important public information out of Floridians' reach," the St. Petersburg Times wrote in its editorial. "This year, lawmakers' annual attempt to close off whole categories of records is broader and more brazen than usual."
Orlando Sentinel Editor Tim Franklin said reasons for the increased pressure to restrict public records include the desire for tighter security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, identity theft fears and a concern about easy access to records on the Internet.
"It's viewed as politically popular at the moment and what concerns me is that there are some in government that wanted to close public records for a long time that now have the cover of security or privacy to try to do it," Franklin said.
The public sometimes takes public records for granted and may not realize the impact of closing them, he said.