Tim Nickens dropped a bombshell on University of South Florida public affairs reporting students– Florida lawmakers are texting important info via cell phones, thus avoiding the Florida Sunshine laws.
“Texts and emails have sent a lot of government underground,” said Nickens.
While technology has certainly made it easier to communicate between local and state governments, it cuts back on the amount of open meetings the governments are required to have.
It also allows for a shadier type of politics to take hold, especially in a state that has broken much ground and given an abundant amount of transparency to its governmental structure.
The Florida Public Records law came to life in 1909, giving the public access to photos, documents and film. Then In 1967, Florida enacted the Government-in-the-Sunshine law, which gives the public access to meetings and commissions.
Phone conversations, however, are not includes in the sunshine laws. This is unfortunate because phone conversations are sure to be chock-full of important light-shedding information.
But, the controversy hasn’t gone on deaf ears. In December 2009, Central Florida News 13 reported that a ban on texts has gone into effect for all Osceola county workers.
The Orlando Sentinel also reported similar news at the beginning of this month, but hinted that county workers won’t give up their texting without a fight.
Nickens also explained to the class that legislature is not subject to open meetings, and that they tend to make their own rules.
Nickens related to the class a powerful example of public records reporting with his story regarding St. Pete High. The high school’s records showed one teacher with a 96 percent pass rate, versus another teacher, teaching the same class, with 8 percent pass rate. The information is alarming, and is thanks to open public records.
Hopefully Florida will continue its tradition of transparency, and move to set stricter text, email and phone laws into place pertaining to lawmakers and county officials.