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LAWMAKERS CALL FOR MORE OPEN GOVERNMENT

The pair want a constitutional amendment requiring more transparency in Tallahassee.

In the aftermath of a lawmaker's indictment and a scathing grand jury report, a pair of legislators want voters to amend Florida's Constitution to require more "sunshine" in the state Capitol.

The proposed constitutional amendment by Miami Sen. Dan Gelber and Sarasota Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, both Democrats, would require higher standards for open meetings, budget writing and public records. Florida's open-government laws are known as Sunshine Laws.

Gelber, who first started pushing for more open meetings two years ago, said the need for change was underscored by a Tallahassee grand jury's indictment in April of Destin Rep. Ray Sansom, the former House speaker, over his handling of the budget as it related to a local community college.

"It doesn't take a grand jury report and the indictment of a House speaker to know that Tallahassee needs to reform the way it does its business," Gelber said.

The proposed amendment has four major provisions that would require:

- Public notice for open meetings whenever two members from a joint House-Senate conference committee discuss pending legislation. Currently, no such notice is required, though it is for city and county officials.

- A three-fourths vote in the House or Senate to approve all nontechnical amendments to legislation in the final five days of a regular or special legislative session. Currently, bills can usually be amended by simple majority vote.

- A "reasonableness" standard be added to Florida law allowing a circuit judge to rule whether a legislatively produced document is a public record. Right now, the House and Senate have the power to shield many documents.

- The budget, 407 pages this year, to be written in plain language with details showing the source and purpose of funds. Currently, the budget information is bare-boned.

The proposal must pass each chamber on a three-fifths vote. Then, in November 2010, 60 percent of voters would need to approve it.

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com.

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