Legislature adopts public records exemptions for county and city attorneys and clerk employees

Legislature adopts public records exemptions for county and city attorneys and clerk employees

In a sign of more turbulent times, the Legislature has created public records exemptions to shield county and city attorneys, and court clerks and their deputies from death threats and stalking.

The Senate on Monday voted 39-1 to sign off on HB 103 by Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee.

The exemption protects county and city attorneys, deputy county and deputy city attorneys, assistant county and assistant city attorneys, and their respective spouses and children.

Late Tuesday, the Senate voted 39-0 to approve HB 983 by Democratic Rep. Dan Daley, a Plantation prosecutor. The measure would create a public records exemption for clerks of the circuit court, deputy clerks, and their spouses and children. Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, sponsored the companion, SB 1176.

When he filed the bill in January, Daley said he wanted to give court clerks the same public records exemption that lawmakers created for judicial assistants last year.

Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, sponsored the county and city attorney exemption, SB 712, in the Senate.

Powell reminded his colleagues that the attorneys regularly deal with contentious issues, such as code enforcement, eminent domain, land use, zoning, and labor and employment.

“Unfortunately, our government attorneys have reportedly been receiving violent threats, including death threats, via telephone calls and emails, based on the nature of their work.”

Some government lawyers have reported that their children have been threatened, Powell said.

“We have lost good county attorneys and municipal attorneys to private sector employers,” because they fear for their families’ safety, Powell said.

The exemption would shield from public view such things as the attorney’s home address, phone number, photograph, their spouse’s workplace, and their child’s school or daycare.

Powell stressed that the exemptions would no longer apply if the government attorney runs for public office.

The House voted 119-0 to approve HB 103 last month. It and SB 712 sailed through committees without a negative vote.

But a temporary headwind developed moments before the final Senate vote.

Saying county and city attorneys “don’t make policy,” Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, suggested the exemption doesn’t go far enough to protect public servants.

“So, my question is, have the corresponding elected officials, who make the policy, been threatened in the same way?”

Ingoglia cast the lone negative vote.

Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills attorney, sponsored the county and city attorney exemption for the past few years and congratulated Powell for “getting it over the finish line.”

“I know that sometimes it feels like we are not necessarily taking a holistic approach,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean something like this is not important.”

The legislation has been a priority of the Florida Association of County Attorneys for the past several years, said Monroe County Attorney Bob Shillinger, the group’s president.

“We deal with some issues that are not always pleasant, and having this protection, which is similar to one for assistant state attorneys and others working in the judicial system, it’s important,” Shillinger said.

Shillinger is also a member of the Bar’s Government Lawyer Section. A GLS legislative position “supports amendment to §119.017, Florida Statutes, to exempt from disclosure under the public records law, the home addresses and telephone numbers of all current and former government agency employees.”

Much of the credit for the county and city attorney exemption belongs to Pasco County Attorney Jeff Steinsnyder, the association’s immediate past president, Shillinger said.

Steinsnyder spent much of the 2023 session in Tallahassee, testifying in committee and working the Capitol halls to educate lawmakers.

Shillinger said his Key West constituents are “pretty laid back,” and he has not been targeted by threats and stalking.

But he says many of his colleagues haven’t been so lucky.

“The job itself can be stressful, you’re dealing with important issues in people’s communities, and sometimes folks who are not well intentioned decide to take things beyond the commission chambers,” he said.


Originally published at https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/legislature-adopts-public-records-exemptions-for-county-and-city-attorneys-and-clerk-employees/

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