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Open bank records, too

When a bank or savings and loan goes belly-up, the people have a right to know every reason why. Their money was in it. Their taxes will make good the loss. And someone in public office may have been asleep on the job.

But the same Florida Legislature that has just passed the nation's finest Government in the Sunshine amendment is about to re-enact an exemption that keeps the lid on bank records for five years, even after a colossal failure such as the CenTrust debacle at Miami, which has the nation's taxpayers on the hook for some $1.7-billion. To hear some of the Florida legislators who have looked into the matter, Florida Comptroller Gerald Lewis, the primary regulator, should have cracked down on CenTrust years before he did. But the records they have the benefit of seeing are closed to the public, and the legislators risk going to jail if they divulge them. It isn't fair to them, or to the public, or even to Lewis, who says he would have no objection to a law opening the files on insolvent institutions.

Florida is the only state that elects its banking regulator. The House and Senate committees that are working on a new banking code have both passed up an opportunity to do something about that anachronism, though the House bill would at least limit campaign contributions from bankers Lewis regulates.

The House, meanwhile, is to vote today on separate legislation perpetuating the five-year secrecy rule. But Rep. Mary Figg, D-Tampa, who chairs the committee that wrote the bill, may try to make the disclosure immediate once a bank has failed. There are bankers who won't like it, but the public will _ and the House would be wise to follow her lead.