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Florida’s Sunshine Law Vol. 2 – Who and what does it cover?

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By: J. Mason Williams IV

As my previous article, What is Florida’s Sunshine Law?, explained, Florida’s Sunshine Law promotes the state’s policy towards open government.  In fact, it is required by Article I, Section 24 of the Florida Constitution.  Does the open policy apply to every government entity in Florida, does it apply to all members of the government, its agencies, etc., and does it cover every type of meeting?

Although my previous article briefly explained that the Sunshine Law applied to members of a state agency, board, or commission, there can be more difficult questions such as does it apply to an elected board member who does not officially hold the position yet?  The Sunshine Law applies to “any board or commission of any state agency or authority or of any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation or political subdivision.”  Section 286.011, Florida Statutes.  Notice that the Sunshine Law applies to state, county, municipal or political subdivisions; it does not apply to federal agencies or federal entities of any type.  Federal law applies to federal agencies and entities even if they are operating in the state of Florida.  As for the question posed above, the answer is yes, “[m]embers-elect of public boards or commissions are covered by the Sunshine law immediately upon their election to public office.”  Open Government – Frequently Asked Questions.  The Sunshine Law can even be applied to private entities acting on behalf of public agencies and entities.

The Sunshine Law does not just apply to formal meetings between two or more board members, two or more commissioners, etc.  It also applies to all meetings, discussions, or deliberations where two or more board members are present, two or more commissioners are present, etc., no matter how informal, if the persons involved will likely discuss a matter where the public board or commission will likely take foreseeable action.  A quorum is not needed.  Meetings in the Florida  Legislature are required by the Florida Constitution to be open and noticed, but there are several exceptions.  Legislative meetings can be excepted by the Legislature or may be specifically closed by the Florida Constitution.

The following is an example of the application of the Sunshine Law.  A newspaper sought to require the board of directors of a private nonprofit corporation to conform to the meetings and notice requirements of the Sunshine Law.  The private nonprofit corporation was operating public hospital facilities which were transferred from a state agency.  Since the private nonprofit corporation was acting on behalf of the state agency and the state agency’s duties had clearly been delegated to the private nonprofit corporation, the records were accessible to the public under the Sunshine Law.  Mem’l Hospital-West Volusia v. News-Journal Corp., 729 So. 2d 373.  So even if you are working with a private company, if you are working on behalf of the state, a county, a city, etc., you can still fall under the purview of the Sunshine Law.

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