Faced with increasing threats, bill seeks to shield city and county attorneys

Faced with increasing threats, bill seeks to shield city and county attorneys

Rep. Kristen Arrington

A House panel has approved a measure that sponsors say is needed to protect city and county attorneys from stalkers and potential violence.

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 18-0 on Wednesday to approve HB 103 by Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee.

The measure would shield from public view the personal identifying information of county attorneys, deputy county attorneys, city attorneys, assistant city attorneys, and deputy city attorneys.

Arrington said county and city attorneys are fleeing to the private sector after facing death threats from constituents angered by adverse decisions.

“We have lost good county attorneys and city attorneys because they do not want to put themselves and their families at risk,” Arrington said.

The measure would also shield the personal identifying information of the government lawyers’ spouses, and information that could identify their respective children’s daycares and schools.

According to a staff analysis, “both county and city attorneys handle sensitive matters such as eminent domain, land use and zoning, and labor and employment, and have reported receiving violent threats, including death threats, via phone calls and emails, based on the nature of their work.”

Arrington stressed that the public records exemption would no longer apply if the county or city attorney, or their respective deputies, becomes a candidate for public office.

The measure has the support of the Florida Association of Counties.

Rep. Ashley Gantt, a lawyer/lawmaker from South Florida, praised Arrington for championing the bill.

“I know the importance of attorneys being able to do their job effectively,” she said. “It is very sorely needed and frankly, overdue.”

State Sen. Bobby Powell

Sen. Bobby Powell

Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, filed a companion, SB 712, on December 5.

Lawmakers have attempted for several years to enact the protections. A public records exemption requires approval by a supermajority of both chambers.

HB 103 faces votes in the Ethics, Elections & Open Government Subcommittee, and Judiciary, before reaching the House floor.

The 60-day regular session convenes January 9.

 

Originally published at https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/faced-with-increasing-threats-bill-seeks-to-shield-city-and-county-attorneys/

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