Plan to keep officials' emails secret is dropped
Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 7:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 7:49 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Lawmakers on Thursday dropped a plan to shroud the email addresses of most public officials in secrecy.
Instead, reacting to concerns from open-government advocates, the sponsors of the legislation (HB 249) narrowed the public records exemption to only cover email addresses that are "obtained for the purpose of voter registration."
The exemption is part of legislation aimed at encouraging voters to sign up for the email delivery of sample election ballots by the local supervisors of election. Issuing the ballots by email will result in a significant savings by reducing mailing costs, bill sponsors say.
Proponents said they wanted to shield the email addresses as an incentive for voters to participate in the program.
Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, said the idea was to protect voters so they "won't get spammed by candidates during campaigns."
But open-government advocates said the original bills were so broadly written that they would have exempted all email addresses for any registered voter held by any public agency, ranging from the governor's office to local county commissions.
Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, the sponsor of the House bill, offered the amendment to narrow the scope of the exemption before the House passed the bill in a 114-1 vote today, with Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, in opposition.
"This amendment makes it clear that the public records exemption only applies to email addresses obtained by an agency for the purpose of voter registration," Nelson told the House.
He said he agreed to the amendment after objections were raised by the First Amendment Foundation, a group that advocates on behalf of open government and is supported by Florida newspapers,
Barbara Petersen, head of the FAF, said while she still questions the necessity for any exemption, the narrowing amendment was an acceptable compromise.
The Senate is poised to pass the House bill as early as Friday.
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