The House and Senate are advancing proposals that would create a public-records exemption for information about lawmakers, including their home addresses and phone numbers, but opponents question how the measures would interact with a requirement that lawmakers live in their districts.
Supporters of the proposals (SB 1488 and HB 1207) said an exemption would increase safety for lawmakers, as they have received threats and seen groups of people show up at their homes.
The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee voted 5-1 on Wednesday to approve the Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.
“We’ve had some situations where people have gotten that public information and have used that to harass and picket and threaten us at our homes,” Stargel, the powerful chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said.
Changes made to the Senate bill Wednesday would require lawmakers to “opt in” to receive the records exemption and also would exclude state Cabinet members from being able to request exemptions, aligning the bill with the House version.
The proposals also would require lawmakers seeking the records exemption to provide a “written statement that he or she has made a reasonable effort to protect the identification and location information from being accessible through other means available to the public.”
Information about lawmakers’ spouses and children also would be kept private under the measures.
Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who is chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said he has feared for his family’s safety after people showed up at his home while he was traveling.
“I will tell you, twice in the last two years people showed up at my house when I was not there, and my wife does have little kids,” Gruters said, adding that the people were “really going, what I would say over the line, looking for me on certain issues.”
Gruters said he has since moved to a gated community for added security.
Such records exemptions already exist for information about judges, state attorneys and public defenders, and proponents have argued that legislators should get similar protections.
The proposal was met with skepticism Wednesday by Sen. Victor Torres, a Kissimmee Democrat who pointed to the legal requirement that lawmakers live in their districts. Torres was the only member of the Senate committee to vote against Stargel’s bill.
“How would constituents know if a senator or representative lives in the district they represent?” Torres asked.
“When you file your original paperwork running for office, you state where you live and that it is within the district,” Stargel answered. “Nothing impedes a person from filing an ethics complaint or a question, if they’ve questioned whether you’ve written accurate information.”
The only other Democrat on the panel, Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando, said she supports the bill because she received a death threat in recent months, prompting her to get law enforcement involved
The sponsor of the House version, Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, said he “would expect” the state Division of Elections to redact lawmakers’ home addresses in documents kept on the state elections website. Beltran’s bill was approved in a 12-4 vote last week by the House Government Operations Subcommittee.
“Do you think that shielding the address of a state House member or member of the state Senate would make it easier for people to be dishonest about where they live, knowing that it would be substantially harder for the press or the media, for example, to confirm someone’s home address?” asked Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.
But Beltran pointed to current lawmakers who have held positions in which they were granted public-records exemptions.
“A lot of us are former prosecutors, there’s former jurists in the House … other former officials who do get that redaction. So that’s not been an issue to my knowledge, that anyone who is eligible for that exemption under any of those capacities has used that to run in a district that they do not live in,” Beltran said.
The Senate bill needs approval from the Rules Committee before it could go to the full Senate. The House bill needs approval from two more committees to reach the House floor.
–Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida
Deborah Coffey says
So, the lawmakers want personal safety for themselves while they won’t enact a mask mandate, while they open up the entire state, while they encourage Spring Break, while they murdered over 35,000 Floridians? I will never, ever vote for another Republican again. They have all sold their souls to Satan.
What does a mask mandate have to do with personal safety for lawmakers? Let’s not get sidetracked by political ideology. It should not be inserted into a conversation about safety. We are all concerned about our safety regardless of political affiliation. Be specific when you’re referring or accusing someone of 35000 murders. This is nonsensical comment. Emotional eruptions do nothing to promote conversation.
Regarding whether or not lawmakers should get an extra level of protection my opinion is that they should not. They knew or should have known what they were getting into when they made the decision to run. They should suck it up and take whatever heat comes their way and address the issues in a straightforward conversation.
By the way, Satan runs the Democrats and Republicans or anyone else who presumes to tell someone how to live their life within the realm of common sense. Speaking of common sense…read the Bill of Rights.
Sounds like a good idea.
Gee whiz whatcha afraid of. Heres a News Flash for ya, stop being such jackwipes Represent Us All to make our State a better place to live not just on your Terms (like have an Agenda) and everyone is satisfied and you dont have to go run and hide with rest of the rats from the sinking ship. Probably wont matter much many will be Voted out anyway IMO.
With the availability and access to weapons, I fail to see where this is needed. It’s kind of funny that Republicans are concerned about their safety but not for the safety of school children. If these GOP idiots would think before they propose and pass laws that the public doesn’t want or need they would not be targeted by the people they are suppose to represent. Exemptions to public information is a joke, why are LEO’s included, they all have guns, handcuff and at their beckoning call they can have copters, armored personnel carriers, SWAT Teams, Mounted Patrols, K-9’s respond. On the other hand people like school teachers are more likely do be in danger, how about addressing real issues rather than developing answers for problems that don’t exist?
@Look – squirrel!!!
This is the stock and trade of the Republican party; pick a fight about nothing, anything, and use up the air, and time, on the distraction. In the meantime, they stiff arm the rest of us. Really, if you’re honest, you’ll admit that it’s the rest of us who are always naked and afraid in their world. That’s it – their world. The rest of us just live here.