Open Government Laws: Florida Senate Bill Aims to Restrict Attorney Fees for Lawsuits regarding Public Records Requests

One of the more underscored debates in the Florida Legislative session this year is an amendment to Florida Statute 119.2, which provides civil action for citizens who are denied access to public records under the Florida Sunshine Act.  The amendment will require plaintiffs to provide written notice to the named agency prior to the demand for costs and attorney fees.  The purpose behind such an amendment is to restrict the possibility of persons who submit excessive public information requests in order to seek monetary damages and attorney costs when their requests are delayed or even denied.
The proposed amendment, SB1220, aims at giving judicial oversight to the claims process and ensuring that a good faith effort is made on behalf of the plaintiff to inform the named agency in the suit of their intent.
Critics of the amendment cite that this “unnecessary” notice of intent and subsequent judicial discretion is an infringement of citizens’ right to open-records.  Currently, the only course of action to correct an open-records law violation is by way of a lawsuit.  Opponents of the amendment assert that this change in language will make it more difficult for plaintiffs to recoup the cost of legal action if an agency wrongfully delays or denies their public records request.

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