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Recordings of mass shootings are no longer public record in Florida

The bill had drawn outcry from open-government advocates who said such records are needed to hold agencies and officials accountable.
Students are evacuated by police out of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooting on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS) 1223673
Published May 23

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Thursday that blocks the release of government-held recordings of deaths in mass violence incidents, in a move that could affect what the public sees after mass shootings like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy last year or the Pulse nightclub attack in 2016.

The bill, SB 186, applies to government photo, audio and video recordings that show the deaths of three or more people, not including the perpetrator, in an incident of mass violence, and blocks such records from being released under the state’s public records laws.

The bill had drawn outcry from open-government advocates who said such records are needed to hold agencies and officials accountable. After the Parkland shooting last year, for example, news organizations had sought videos showing the actions of sheriff’s deputies in Broward County that under the new law could be shielded from public records requests.

Supporters of the new law said it will help curb graphic videos or photos that could lead to similar future crimes and prevent loved ones from being re-traumatized by the images, though the new law does not apply to private recordings of such violent incidents that have spread on social media after an attack.

The bill goes into effect immediately.

The bill passed by the Legislature in the final week of session allows immediate family members who can access the records — including spouses, parents and adult children — to release the records to the public without punishment. It also allows those who request the records to challenge denials in court, though such legal fights have been costly.

The bill was also criticized by some lawmakers who contended the bill should block more records, including those in which the death toll might be two or one, rather than three. House sponsor Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, called the thresholds set by the final version a compromise.

DeSantis also signed another public records exemption bill Thursday that will exempt voter registration information for 16- and 17-year-olds from release, as well as information pertaining to a voter’s past felony conviction. That bill, HB 281, which had initially been much broader, was narrowed in the final days of the legislative session.

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