Introduction Sunshine Law Requirements Agencies Under the Sunshine Law History of Florida’s Ethics Laws Ethics Laws
To assist the public and governmental agencies in understanding the requirements and exemptions to Floridas open government laws, the Attorney Generals Office compiles a comprehensive guide known as the Government-in-the-Sunshine manual. The manual is published each year at no taxpayer expense by the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee. Florida is renowned for putting a high priority on the publics right of access to governmental meetings and records. In fact, the principles of open government are embodied not only in Florida statutes, but also guaranteed in the state Constitution.
Florida began its tradition of openness back in 1909 with the passage of what has come to be known as the "Public Records Law," Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes. This law provides that any records made or received by any public agency in the course of its official business are available for inspection, unless specifically exempted by the Legislature. Over the years, the definition of what constitutes "public records" has come to include not just traditional written documents such as papers, maps and books, but also tapes, photographs, film, sound recordings and records stored in computers. It was in 1967 that Floridas Government-in-the-Sunshine Law was enacted. Today, the Sunshine Law can be found in Chapter 286 of the Florida Statutes. The Sunshine Law establishes a basic right of access to most meetings of boards, commissions and other governing bodies of state and local governmental agencies or authorities.
What agencies are covered under the Sunshine Law? The Government-in-the-Sunshine Law applies to "any board or commission of any state agency or authority or of any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation or political subdivision." Thus, it applies to public collegial bodies within the state at both the local as well as state level. It applies equally to elected or appointed boards or commissions. Are federal agencies covered by the Sunshine Law? Federal agencies operating in the state do not come under Floridas Sunshine law.
What are the requirements of the Sunshine law?The Sunshine law requires that1) meetings of boards or commissions must be open to the public2) 2) reasonable notice of such meetings must be given, and3) 3) minutes of the meeting must be taken.
Florida Constitution revised in 1968 o Required a code of ethics for all state employees and non-judicial officers o Prohibited conflict between public duty and private interests be prescribed by law o 1976 the “Sunshine Amendment” was adopted o Provided additional constitutional guarantees concerning ethics in government. o Created independent commission(Commission on Ethics) to investigate complaints
o Five of the Commission’s nine members are appointed by the Governoro Two each are appointed by the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representativeso No more than five (5) Commission members may be members of the same political partyo None of the Commission members may hold any public employment during their two-year terms of office
The “Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees” adopted by the Florida Legislature is found in Chapter 112 of the Florida Statutes o Primary goal to promote public interest and maintain respect of the people for their government o Ensure that public officials conduct themselves independently and impartially o Ensure that public officials are not using their office for personal gain o Avoid creation of unnecessary barriers to public service while maintaining integrity of government
ROLE OF THE COMMISSION ON ETHICS o Investigate complaints o Renders advisory opinions to public officials o Prescribes forms for disclosure o Administers the Executive Branch Lobbyist Registration and Reporting Law o Maintains financial disclosure filings of constitutional officers and state officers and employees o Administers automatic fines for public officers and employees who fail to timely file and financial disclosures o May file suit to void contracts, prepares mailing lists of officials subject to disclosure and makes recommendations to disciplinary officials when appropriate
Primarily two types of provisions: o Those prohibiting certain actions or conduct o Those requiring certain disclosures be made to public Laws generally apply to all public officers and employees, State and local as well as members of advisory bodies. Principal exclusion are judges – fall under jurisdiction of Judicial Qualifications Commission Public Service Commission members and employees are subject to additional ethics standards enforced by the Ethics Commission under Sec 350 of Florida Statutes.
Unauthorized Compensation o Public officers or employees, local government attorneys, and their spouses or minor children prohibited from taking any compensation or anything of value that: They know They should have known with exercise of reasonable care will influence their vote or official action
Misuse of Public Position o Prohibited from corruptly using or attempting to use their official positions to obtain a special privilege for themselves or others Disclosure or Use of Certain Information o Information not available to the public and obtained by reason of their position for the personal benefit of themselves or others