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Legislation would exempt Florida Gov. DeSantis' movements from public records

If it passes, the bill would be retroactive -- and go into effect as soon as the governor signs it
If it passes, the bill would be retroactive -- and go into effect as soon as the governor signs it

A bill is poised for passage in both chambers of the Legislature that would exempt the travel of top state officials from public records requests. It would erase all public records of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s movements -- including in his office at the Capitol and his home in the Governor’s Mansion.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jeff Holcomb, a Republican from Spring Hill. It creates a public records exemption for all of DeSantis’s movements, for anyone to whom he loans the plane and whomever visits him in Tallahassee. What’s more, it would also be retroactive -- and go into effect upon the governor’s signature.

The staff analysis says the exemption is necessary because “the disclosure of such records could reveal the means and methods used in providing security or transportation services and could impair the ability of [the Florida Department of Law Enforcement] or other law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety and security of the protected person, the law enforcement agents, and personnel providing the security or transportation services.”

Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a Democrat from Davie, asked why it would be necessary to the governor’s security to protect his previous travel from the public eye. Here’s Holcomb, the sponsor:

“There could be situations where the governor comes to various parts of Florida, whether it’s to present a bill, meet with various constituents…but that information is out there for various public records requests, and that information could then, with enough time and enough digging and enough effort, might be able to get the security profile of that structure or that building,” Holcomb said.

First Amendment Foundation Executive Director Bobby Block acknowledges there could be security concerns for top state officials and those charged with protecting them. But as he told the House Judiciary Committee…

“To make a wholesale exemption of records of past travel serves no purpose except to keep from the public where and why our officials are traveling and how much is being spent with our money and in our name.”

These records are of particular interest because DeSantis is widely expected to run for president in the near future. Currently he’s traveling to other states for reasons that include promoting his book and speaking to political groups.

Block went on to remind the committee that former Governors Lawton Chiles and Charlie Crist and former Senate President Jim King had all been found to have violated the law regarding use of the state plane.

“These abuses of taxpayer money came to light because of access to these records,” Block said.

Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, says because the bill is retroactive, it would wipe out current public records requests of long standing.

“I talked to a reporter last week who had been waiting ten months for travel records from the governor.” she said. “This bill becomes law upon the governor’s signature, so he can kiss his public records request goodbye.”

Further, says Petersen, a Senate amendment would protect the identities not just of those on the plane, but of anyone who visits the governor at the Mansion or in his office.

“So we will have no idea where he’s going, who he’s going with, who he’s talking to…We will have no idea,” she said. “It’s mind-boggling, the audacity of this.”

The measure is now on second reading in the House and on the special order calendar in the Senate. DeSantis could sign it into law as soon as it passes -- perhaps as early as this week.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.