Governor Ron DeSantis Takes on Florida Freedom of Information Laws

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Governor Ron DeSantis Takes on Florida Freedom of Information Laws

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis backs bill to make media libel lawsuits easier. (File photo)

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a likely US presidential candidate, is stepping up efforts to undermine state transparency guaranteed so far by some of the strictest Florida laws in the United States.

The threat is such that some human rights defenders are sounding the alarm: 2023 could well see the worst setback in access to public data in Florida and, as a corollary, with regard to the accountability of the state to the citizens.

The state of transparency is in peril, bluntly warns Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, which has been tracking changes in freedom of information laws for three years. decades.

In an unprecedented step for the “Sunshine StateMr. DeSantis claimed the right of the executive branch to keep key government records secret. The governor also challenged a landmark ruling 60 years ago that protects journalists and others who post critical comments about public figures.

At the start of the parliamentary session last week, dozens of bills introduced would be added to the state's long list of open government exceptions. All these texts have a very good chance of being adopted given the enormous influence that the 44-year-old Republican enjoys on his party, which has the majority in both houses of the Florida legislature.< /p>

Governor DeSantis' efforts to reduce public transparency run counter to this Southern state's reputation as a historical pioneer of open government. Legislation allowing public access to government records dates back to 1909, long before similar measures were enacted in many other US states.

Rising star of the hard right, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has pledged to make his state a laboratory for conservative ideas.

In February, Mr. DeSantis hosted a live-streamed defamation roundtable. He was then trying to gain support for his project to facilitate defamation suits against the media or people who publish information on the Internet targeting public officials.

You mess someone's reputation, it's unjustified and you haven't done your homework, you're going to have to answer for it, Mr. DeSantis promised at the time, concluding the event.


According to Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, the Republican governor's efforts to change the law would be a first nationwide, and could have a deleterious effect on free speech.

For its part, the party of Ron DeSantis strongly defends it: This bill would allow a person who has suffered damages as a result of a defamatory statement by a x27;Easier to get justice in Florida courts, argues Republican state Rep. Alex Andrade.

The Libel Act is just one of many policies the DeSantis government is aspiring to change, causing concern from media organizations.

Accessibility to information has shrunk dramatically since Ron DeSantis came to power. During his first year in office in 2019, the list of personal details that are prohibited from being disclosed about various officials grew.

Earlier this year, a Florida trial judge backed the governor when he pleaded executive privilege in his refusal to provide information requested under the state's Public Records Act regarding his screening of potential candidates. in the state Supreme Court.

The well-publicized case was appealed, as Florida's constitution made no mention specifically related to executive privilege.< /p>

Additionally, Florida's current administration is notorious for complicating the processes for freedom of information requests.

The WKMG television network has reported last month that public records requests to certain state agencies were first forwarded to the governor's office for review, sometimes delaying their release by weeks or even months. /p>

These legislative attacks are not unlike those of former President Donald Trump, a potential rival to Ron DeSantis and a fellow Florida native, also known for his criticism of of the press, whom he described as the enemy of the people.

These criticisms are often welcomed within the modern Republican Party, where the mainstream media is perceived as being on the side of Democratic and Liberal interests.

With information from Associated Pre ss

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