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RECAP: FL Sunshine Law

Staff | Published on 4/10/2024

The Unshine State: A Hazy Forecast for Florida's Sunshine Law
Florida’s Sunshine Law on open records and meetings is coming under increasing attack from exemptions and from state and local governments that refuse to comply with requests in a timely manner.
The 1967 law once was the envy of the nation. Floridians believe that a transparent government is also an accountable government. Yet, more than 1,000 exemptions to the law have been made by different state Legislatures and signed into law by Florida governors.
The exemptions have increased in recent years, and so has the noncompliance. In some cases, local governments balk at records requests because they lack money and staffing to accommodate them. A few individuals can make enormous demands under the Sunshine Law.
In some cases, there is confusion about what constitutes an open meeting, or comments from the public are limited. State government often slow-walks a response and demands large amounts of money for copies of records.  FULL REVIEW below.

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A FEW FACTS ABOUT YOUR 1st Amendment Rights (According to 2023 Freedom Forum Survey)
40% people say speech is the most essential First Amendment freedom
66% American think campuses should foster free exchange of ideas
<30% Americans think state legislators or governors should have input on school curriculum
62% Americans know books are protected by the First Amendment
60% people think that hate speech should be protected 

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The Unshine State: A Hazy Forecast for Florida’s Sunshine Law
Wednesday, April 10, 2024
By Judi Hayes
The forecast for the foreseeable future may be clear, sunny and warm, but sunglasses aren’t necessary
because of the haze and cloud cover obscuring Florida’s Sunshine Law. The 1967 law governing access to
public records and meetings is almost unrecognizable in 2024, with more than 1,200 exemptions and
local and state officials frequently refusing to comply with it. Florida’s citizens are left in the shade
without access to public meetings and records. The League partnered with the Florida First Amendment
Foundation to shed some light on the topic. 
Moderator Beth Kassab, a Central Florida native and journalist, is the editor of the Winter Park Voice
and spent 20 years writing a popular column and covering politics, education, courts, business, and local
government for the Orlando Sentinel. Panelists included Leslie Postal, the K-12 education reporter for
the Orlando Sentinel who has recently covered the school voucher program; Mike DeForest, an
investigator reporter from WKMG News 6, and Bobby Block, the executive director of the Florida First
Amendment Foundation and former managing editor of Florida Today. 
The most recent legislative session resulted in 18 new exemptions to the Sunshine Law and weakening
of First Amendment protections around social media for teens. On the brighter side, however, the
attempted expansion of defamation laws failed to pass. Mike DeForest spoke about how Gov. Ron
DeSantis has obfuscated and delayed public records requests, intervening to review records before
they’re produced and in effect denying public access. Sometimes access delayed is access denied if
Floridians don’t have access to the information they need to vote or make decisions. The cost of getting
copies of records can soar to exorbitant sums as well, preventing reasonable access to what are really
OUR records. 
Leslie Postal discussed a public records request about the governor’s decision to withhold school
voucher money from a few private schools in the greater Orlando area over perceived ties with Chinese
investors — and the governor’s reluctance to provide transparency when questioned. She has yet to
receive any of the requested documents, months after the request.
As Bobby Block pointed out, most of requests come from citizens and not journalists. Ninety percent of
calls to FFAF’s hotline are from citizens. His organization publishes a manual for citizens to draft public
records requests designed to produce responsive requests without resulting in exorbitant fees in order
to traverse the most efficient path to transparency in government. 
Mike DeForest discussed the Washington Post lawsuit involving the governor’s travel records, now
shielded from public view and retroactively hidden. The state Legislature approved the change in law
that helped the governor to hide his travel records, his visitor logs and other activities that should be
accessible to the public.
The panelists were asked what citizens can do to ensure broad access to public records. Be persistent,
said DeForest. Leslie Postal pointed to citizen advocacy groups like the Florida Freedom to Read Project,
which doggedly tracks challenges to library books statewide. Bobby Block said he considers the First
Amendment Foundation the “Defenders of the Sunshine,” and they are assisting in drafting new
legislation to create an ombudsman to oversee public records requests and the responses from
government. That would streamline a process where the standard of a “reasonable period of time” is
too vague to be enforced. 
The First Amendment Foundation has resources to help citizens access public records. First
Amendment Foundation – flfaf

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Leslie Postal

Leslie Postal is the Orlando Sentinel’s veteran education reporter, covering local schools and statewide K-12 issues. She has written about controversies involving Florida's school voucher programs, inequities in the

state’s Bright Futures program and book bans resulting from new state laws that scrutinize what’s on school library shelves.


Leslie grew up in New York and is a graduate of Cornell University, where she was managing editor of The Cornell Daily Sun her senior year, and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Before moving to Florida, she worked at two daily newspapers in Virginia.


In 2023, she was a finalist for the Education Writers Association’s national investigative and public service award. In 2021 she was a winner of the Excellence in Education Award by The Association of

LGBTQ Journalists and in 2018 she was finalist for the national Scripps Howard First Amendment Award.

Mike DeForest

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades. When Mike was 5 years old, his grandfather introduced him to broadcasting by handing

him a microphone and a tape recorder. A few years later, Mike ran around his neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs with his family’s bulky VHS camcorder, shooting movies with his friends.

Mike studied broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California. While in Los Angeles, he was mentored by some of the biggest names in television news. Mike&#39;s first big assignment was covering the O.J. Simpson case. On weekends, Mike put his voice to work navigating tourists past animatronic hippos on the Disneyland Jungle Cruise.


Mike began his career at KAAL-TV in Austin, Minnesota, better known at the birthplace of Spam. The highlight of the year was covering the annual Spam Jam festival. He then reported for WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tenn., where Mike fell in love with the mountains, the barbecue and the woman he would later marry.


Mike joined News 6 just as Florida officials began counting hanging chads in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Since then, Mike has covered some of the biggest news events in Central Florida, from hurricanes to shuttle launches to the trials of Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman. But what Mike loves most about his job is meeting the memorable people who make Central Florida one of the most interesting and exciting places in the country.

Bobby Block


Robert “Bobby” Block is executive director of the Florida First Amendment Foundation. The former managing editor of Florida Today, Block’s career in journalism and advocacy spans four decades. He contributed to the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of 9/11, which earned a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news.


He is co-author of the book “Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security” and has also reported on conflicts around the world, including coverage of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as it happened, as well as the summary executions of more than 8,000 men and boys from the Bosnian village of Srebrenica by Serbian forces in 1995.


He was appointed FFAF executive director in 2023 as direct attacks on the First Amendment rights of Florida’s citizens are increasing with callous disregard for the law. According to the FFAF, both state and local governments are restricting citizens’ access to public meetings and records. The right to question state and local officials and hold them accountable has become fraught with problems. Government bodies that are legally required by Florida’s Constitution to act with transparency and are moving more and more into the shade.

Moderator: Beth Kassab

Beth Kassab is a Central Florida native and long-time journalist who has devoted her career to local news. She arrived at the Winter Park Voice in 2023 with a strong passion for telling the stories of the people and organizations who help define this region.


Beth spent 20 years at the Orlando Sentinel where she covered politics, education, courts, business and local government and also wrote a popular column. She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, NBC Nightly News, WMFE, WUCF and Fox35.


Beth graduated from the University of Florida, where she was editor-in-chief of the Independent Florida Alligator, and served as chairwoman of UF’s Department of Journalism Advisory Board from 2018-2020.


In 2018, she was a finalist for the Scripps Howard First Amendment Award and has been recognized for her body of work by the Florida Society of News Editors.

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  • Continue reaching out to your Representatives to prioritize open records laws
  • Express your interest about this topic to local news outlets and demand that more coverage is given to the issue
  • Follow and support the First Amendment Foundation, a non-partisan, nonprofit Florida-based organization dedicated to safeguarding and promoting the fundamental freedoms of expression recognized in the First Amendment


2024 Hot Topics The Unshine State: Florida's Sunshine Law

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