TALLAHASSEE -- A bill that prevents collecting attorney fees in frivolous public records lawsuits passed the Florida Senate without opposition Wednesday.
The bill is a substitute for a Senate bill identical to a House bill by state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. The substitute says judges shall award attorney fees, except when the civil action or request for the public record is frivolous, malicious or reasonably appears to have been intended to harass the agency, or for the explicit purpose of filing a lawsuit, or if any alleged delay or error in making the public record available is a technical violation and would be considered harmless in those circumstances.
The original version by Steube would give judges discretion on whether to
award attorneys fees in all cases. He said it's meant to disrupt a cottage industry that heaps hidden or a large number of public records requests upon agencies and then sues when the agency can't meet the demands, making money off taxpayers.
Opponents took issue with the original version, saying that not mandating attorney fees for those suing over public records requests they filed in good faith would act as a deterrent to those who can't afford to hire attorneys. If someone is denied a public record from an agency, their only recourse is to go to court.
Steube has previously said he has no problem with the substitute legislation if it means the law can be passed to protect agencies from frivolous and malicious lawsuits.