Representative Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello) and Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) filed Senate Bill 390 on Wednesday, Sept. 30. In the previous regular Legislative Session, Simpson and Beshears took on scammers who use Florida’s open government and sunshine laws to target and intimidate job creators for unjust financial gain (Senate Bill 224/House Bill 163). Although the legislation did not pass, support for this common sense issue grew and these legislators have re-filed for the 2016 Session. The bill would protect small businesses that engage in contracts with local and state government without inhibiting access to public records. “Many Florida business owners contract with and perform services for public agencies,” said Senator Simpson. “Last summer, I learned that across Florida, individuals are approaching some of these businesses to make public records requests for only one purpose: creating confusion for the business owners that leads to frivolous lawsuits to obtain cash settlements.
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) uncovered details about these cases that are deeply troubling. I am an unwavering supporter of comprehensive public access laws so citizens can hold their government accountable. In these cases though, it is clear that the rights of private citizens and hardworking business owners are being trampled by some unscrupulous people bent on getting rich off this scam.” “In each case that I’ve reviewed, government agencies have the records that are being requested,” said Rep. Beshears. “Instead of simply asking the records custodian at the state agency, spam-like emails are sent or even worse, intimidating individuals wearing cameras go onto private property and make demands of office staff that have had no training in our public records laws. This isn’t right and we’ve got to put an end to it.”