Make sure you understand the law.
message Sen. Wilton Simpson sent to the business community Monday. In
a memo to business leaders, the Trilby Republican said businesses
that have contracts with local or state government "need to
understand the change that was made to the public records law."
Under a new law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in March, a
person seeking records dealing with contract services can no longer
make the request directly of the contractor. Instead, the request
must be made to the public agency that contracted with the business.
The agency is
required to fill the request if it has the records. If not, the
agency is required to notify the contractor, which is then required
to provide the records or allow access in a reasonable amount of
Simpson said the
law was meant to stop records requests he said were being filed
"for only one purpose: creating confusion for the business
owners that leads to frivolous lawsuits to obtain cash
"I am an
unwavering supporter of comprehensive public access laws so citizens
can hold their government accountable," he said in an email
Tuesday. "In these cases though, it was clear that the rights of
private citizens and hardworking business owners were being trampled
by some unscrupulous people bent on getting rich off a new
Petersen, the president of the First Amendment Foundation, said the
organization was neutral in its position. When the bill was first
proposed in 2015, Petersen said her organization worked "very
hard to strike the right balance that would protect contractors from
those people that were making public records request for the sole
purpose of causing a violation."
The law went
into effect immediately upon signature. But in his memo to the
business community Monday, Simpson said "individuals are still
contacting businesses and demanding public records relating to contracts."
business owners have not been properly educated. They don't know they
have no obligation to respond," he said. "Additionally, we
are trying to get the word out to the public agencies that it's their
responsibility to handle these requests."
she recently received a call from a contractor who had been notified
by a person he wasn't in compliance and was about to be sued. In that
example, Petersen said the state agency had the records; and under
the new law, it should be responsible for producing documents.
extent, it's a misunderstanding of the law," she said. "But
we still have those people taking advantage."
state and local government agencies need to become "more
well-informed themselves." He also said state agencies need to
work to educate the business community about how to move forward.
"No private business in this state should be
communicating with any person or entity about public records requests
except for the agency they signed the contract with," he said.
"The agency should be handling all communication with the
requestor and fulfilling the request. The agencies should be giving
these businesses easy-to-understand answers."
Click here for a copy of Chapter Law 2016-020 (HB
For additional information, please do not hesitate to
contact the UPSA office.