TALLAHASSEE — Two gubernatorial candidates from opposing parties and disparate ideological camps found a point of agreement Monday when it came to Florida’s Sunshine laws.
Republican state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer, praised the state’s open-records and open-meetings laws. They also condemned efforts by some lawmakers and others to widen exemptions for the convenience of those who benefit from secrecy.
“Every year for the 14 years I’ve been in the state Legislature, we have passed some exemptions,” Dockery said during a luncheon sponsored by the First Amendment Foundation, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit group that lobbies for open government. “Each one, when you hear the reason, sounds reasonable.
“But when it becomes exemption after exemption after exemption, it undermines the very principle that all of that information should be available to the people,” she said. “It’s their government. It’s their money.”
Sink lauded Florida’s Sunshine laws and the government accountability they were intended to provide.
“We often hear that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and I truly believe that,” Sink said. “It’s one of the things we need here in Tallahassee.”
Sink said many Floridians are familiar with crucial issues at local and federal levels, but “they know virtually nothing about Tallahassee. We need to change that.”
The event marked Sunshine Week, a nonpartisan, national effort that began in Florida and draws attention to transparency in government. The Associated Press and a number of other media outlets have financially supported The First Amendment Foundation.
Dockery and Rep. Clay Ford, R-Gulf Breeze, are sponsoring bills that address some issues raised by the state’s Commission on Open Government Reform, which proposed dozens of recommendations for improving the state’s Sunshine laws.
Thus far, the bills — and several others intended to enhance Florida’s open government laws — have made little progress in the Legislature, but Dockery took advantage of the opportunity to lobby Cretul and others at the luncheon.
“I see all these legislative leaders sitting in this room, and I think that portents very great things for passage of this bill,” she said, to general laughter.
She and Sink also noted the years-long series of staff cutbacks in media operations in Tallahassee and elsewhere.
“We know that members of the press are having to do more with less people,” Sink said. “Many times, I see issues that require a lot more reporting. I’m thankful that the press continues to manage pretty well at looking at these issues.”