Compared to last year, there was little that was typical of Florida's 2014 legislative session. In fact, we saw a record number of new open government exemptions in the 2014 session -- 22 new exemptions were created and nine existing exemptions were reenacted.
According to recent news reports, the Legislature passed a total of 255 bills this year, and roughly 12 percent of those were new and reenacted exceptions to our constitutional right of access.
Prior to this year's onslaught, the largest number of new exemptions approved was in 2007, when 14 new exemptions were created.
While many of the new exemptions are relatively minor and fully justified, others seem designed to do nothing more than protect special interests.
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The CS/HB 775, for example, prohibits disclosure of certain information provided by promoters to the Florida State Boxing Commission, including the number of match ticket sales and gross receipts.
But publicly-owned venues routinely base the amount to be charged promoters for use of public facilities on total attendance or total ticket sales; without the public's ability to access that information, promoters and public officials will be unduly shielded from censure of any "sweetheart" deals.
Even more alarming is CS/SB 1320 which exempts critical information about family trust companies, allowing access to only the most basic information such as the name of the trust company and its registered agent.
In addition, the constitutionally-required statement of public necessity is woefully insufficient, asserting, hypothetically, the exemption is needed to protect the safety of "families with a high net worth who are frequently the targets of criminal predators."
There is no factual basis or substantiated evidence supporting this assertion, yet only one legislator, Sen. Arthenia Joyner (whose district includes a portion of Manatee County), voted against the bill.
Despite the First Amendment Foundation's request for a veto, Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law (Ch. No. 2014-102).
There were a small number of bright spots this year -- for the first time in memory, the Legislature voted to allow an existing exemption for the Scripps Florida Funding Foundation to "sunset" under the Open Government Sunset Review Act.
A law passed last year requiring annual open government training for all constitutional officers was expanded this year to include elected municipal officers; the bill, CS/SB 846, also requires that those public officers and officials who are required to undergo such training certify completion of the requirement on his or her financial disclosure and financial statement report.
And legislation that increases transparency of citizen support and direct support organizations and the agencies and institutions such organizations support was approved. Although narrowed in the final days of session, CS/SB 1194 is a good first step in making such organizations more open and accessible.
Unfortunately, a proposal that would have provided much needed reform of Florida's public records law failed to win final approval. The bill, SB 1648, was a priority for Senate President Don Gaetz, and although it passed the Senate unanimously, it stalled in the House where it died.
Why it died is something of a mystery as the First Amendment Foundation and the Florida League of Cities worked on a series of amendments that all interested parties agreed to and the league's president wrote an editorial in favor of the bill's passage.
So a disappointing session in all respects -- failure to pass the first "good" bill introduced in years and a record number of new exemptions created.
I think we may have surpassed what former Sen. Dan Gelber called "death by a thousand paper cuts" and moved on to a full-scale assault on Florida's constitutional right of access to government information.
You'll find analyses of all open government bills passed during the 2014 legislative session as well as a comprehensive list of all bills tracked by the First Amendment Foundation on its website, www.floridafaf.org.
Barbara Petersen, is the president of the First Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Tallahassee, and is an advocate of the public's right to oversee its government.