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Florida’s Sunshine Law Vol. 1 – What is Florida’s Sunshine Law?

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By: J. Mason Williams IV

Florida has a long history of openness dating back to at least 1909 when the “Public Records Law” (Chapter 119, Florida Statutes) was passed.  Since that time, Florida has enacted several laws and amended the Florida Constitution to ensure openness in the government.  One important part of these statutes is Florida’s “Sunshine Law” (Chapter 286, Florida Statutes).  So how far does this openness go and what type of openness does it provide?

To start, it does not mean that every government document must be provided or that you can walk into a government agency and they have to copy anything you ask for.  It also does not mean that you can walk into every meeting and start asking why the agency or entity is doing what it is doing.  It does, however, give individuals “the basic right of access to most meetings of boards, commissions and other governing bodies of state and local governmental agencies or authorities.”  Open Government – The “Sunshine” Law, Office of the Attorney General of Florida.  This “basic right of access” does not include the right to participate in meetings or the right to get copies of documents immediately.

The “Sunshine Law” focuses primarily on meetings and as far as meetings are concerned, if two or more members of a state agency, including a state university, board or commission hold a meeting, generally speaking, it must be open to the public.  This includes giving the public conspicuous notice and keeping minutes.  Meetings between a board member and non-board members are not necessarily open to the public.  Additionally, there are exemptions for meetings that are specifically exempted by statute, certain meetings that involve vendor negotiations or strategies for vendor negotiations, and various other types of meetings.

As for acquiring documents, although other law may apply to inspecting documents, such as Chapter 119, the “Sunshine Law” gives the public the right to inspect the minutes records of any meeting that would otherwise be open to the public as described in Chapter 286.

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