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Florida’s Public Records Act Vol. 1 – What are public records?

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By: J. Mason Williams IV

Florida prides itself in having an open government and many of Florida’s records are open to the public.  Not everything falls under the category of a public record though, and likely for good reason.  Public records are defined in Section 119.011(12), Florida Statutes and are essentially any document, recording, or material of any form made or received pursuant to law or ordinance connected with the official business of any agency.  If the material, received or made by an agency, is used to “perpetuate, communicate or formalize knowledge,” then it falls under the statutory definition of a public record.  Shevin v. Byron, Harless, Schaffer, Reid and Associates, Inc., 379 So. 2d 633, 640 (Fla. 1980).

The biggest exception to these materials is if they are specifically exempted from disclosure by the Legislature.  One of these exemptions is a limited work product rule for agency attorneys.

So what does this mean is really available to the public?  Well, nearly any document prepared by an employee, or volunteer, of a government agency.  It does not have to be the finished product.  Emails between employees discussing a matter are likely available to the public.  Transcripts prepared for commissions or committees are likely available to the public.  Even certain drafts of materials, notes, text messages, and Facebook © posts may be available to the public.

The materials are not limited to paper copies either.  The material can be video, audio recordings, information on a computer, nearly any type of material that meets the other statutory requirements.  Furthermore, the agencies must take into consideration the possibility of public records requests when storing, recording, filing, etc. the materials.  The materials must be able to be provided with any necessary redactions and cannot be kept so that the public’s ability to inspect or copy the information is impaired.

If you need assistance with the Florida Public Records Law, feel free to contact me. You can also follow me on TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook for even more information.