What is Florida Freedom of Information Act?

Contrary to what it sounds like, the Florida Sunshine Law is not just a single law, but rather a series of laws that were passed beginning in 1909, and designed to give the public broad access to the records of its own government.

The Origin of Florida FOIA

Way back in 1909, the first public records law was passed in Florida as Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes, allowing the public access to any and all records for any public agency made during the “course of official business”.

Not until nearly 60 years later, however, was Chapter 286 of the Florida Statutes passed, requiring that all public board meetings be open to the public for attendance; and further, that no decisions affecting the general public be made behind “closed doors.”  The intent of the Florida Open Meetings law, as it became known, was to ensure that parents could have a say in their school district’s decision, say, to change the sexual education curriculum; or for affected residents to attend the meeting discussing a possible shopping mall to be built in their neighborhood.

The final piece in Florida’s FOIA puzzle fell into place in the early 1990’s.  That’s when the scope of the state’s Freedom of Information Act was clarified and expanded to include the three branches of state government:  legislative, executive, and judicial.

Utilizing the Freedom of Information Act to Obtain Vital Public and Legal Information

So what does the Florida Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) mean to you?  It means, first of all, that you have access to any public information about you or anyone else, including Florida arrest records, court records, salary amounts and expense reports for many types of government jobs, and emails sent from official business government job accounts.

Many times people understand that they have access to this kind of information, but have no idea how to access it.  Let’s say, for example, you work in Broward County, and you would like to check and see if someone has a criminal background in the same county.  Lucky for you, the county clerk’s office has organized Broward County public records and indexed them at this website http://www.clerk-17th-flcourts.org/Clerkwebsite/BCCOC2/PASystemTransfer/CourtTypeSelection.aspx?Destination=CaseSearch.aspx, and all you have to do is choose either criminal or civil records to search.

But that is by no means the limits of the Florida FOIA.  You can use it to request information on just about any kind of meeting you can think of, from water district meeting notes to information about what actions private organizations are recommending your public agencies to take.  An excellent sample of an official FOIA request is given here:  http://www.nfoic.org/florida-sample-foia-request, complete with fill-in-the-blanks to be tailored to your exact request.

You don’t have to tell the court why you are requesting this information, or even to present identification.  Remember what Alan Moore said in V for Vendetta: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people” .