Florida Senate Votes To Shield Recordings Of Mass Violence From Public Record

Mar 27, 2019

The Florida Senate unanimously voted to exempt pictures, video and audio recordings of mass violence from public record.
Credit Terry Renna / AP

A bill exempting recordings of mass shootings from public record cleared the Senate Wednesday. The House version is headed to that chamber’s floor.

A controversial measure (SB 186) following last year’s Parkland massacre, it received unanimous support from senators.

The bill would retroactively exempt any recording or depiction of a violent act where at least three people, not including the perpetrator, are killed.

It is needed to protect victims’ families and survivors, said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon). Victims should not continue to be subjected to emotional trauma that could be brought by such photos and videos.

Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) said the measure balances a tough situation.

“I’m always suspect of public records exemptions, especially when they touch on operations of the government, and the ability of the public to review those operations to make sure that folks are held accountable," said Bradley.

"[Lee] articulated very clearly what the public necessity is and he has worked very diligently with everyone to make sure that it is as narrowly-tailored as possible to achieve the goal.”

The state constitution requires public records exemptions be as narrow as possible, and lawmakers must prove there is a need for it.

Free speech advocates like the First Amendment Foundation (FAF) have raised concerns over the public’s ability to hold officials accountable. Barbara Petersen, president of FAF, said the concern is not about publishing graphic photos or videos.

“They want to see what happened, how law enforcement responded," said Petersen. "And I believe that the way this bill has been narrowed and amendment it would allow us that oversight.” 

Public officials involved in acts of mass violence, or who are acting within the scope of their job, would not be included in the exemption.

Lee says he worked Petersen to parse down confusing language and ensure it will pass constitutional muster. 

Lee is confident it will hold up against any legal challenges, but said people who feel "walled off" can appeal to the court for access to records.

Public records uncovered by the Sun Sentinel after the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) shooting found officers remained outside the school while the shooting was going on.

This, in part, led to the creation of the MSD Public Safety Commission and a number of measures proposed in the legislature this year.

Despite the objections, the bill sailed through all three of its committee stops, before getting full support from the state’s senators.

The House version of the bill (HB 7017) is waiting to be heard by that chamber’s floor.