Across Florida, public boards have told citizens to shut up. They weren’t interested in what they have to say. The following exchange took place at a council meeting in Pensacola.
“No, I have a minute and twelve seconds left”, said Nathan Monk, citizen. The council person responded “I’m ruling you out of order”, to which Monk replied “I’m absolutely within order”.
Two courts have ruled that you have a right to go to a meeting, but not to speak. The Florida Supreme Court, in ruling against the University of Florida for closing what should have been an open meeting said “nothing in this decision gives the public the right to be more than spectators.”
State Senator Joe Negron has been on a crusade to change the law. “Next to your right to jury trial and your right to vote, your right to speak before people that are spending the money and are making policies. That trio of rights to me are really worth fighting for”, says Negron.
If the law passes, there will still be exceptions to when you can speak and for how long. For one thing, you won’t be able to stand up here in front of everyone and spout off whatever is on your mind. What you say has to be related to the topic at hand
Local governments have expressed the most concern, which is why there are exceptions in the bill. But the League of Women Voters believes the change is long overdue. “Democratic government depends on citizens informed and active”, says Marilyn Willis, League of Women Voters.
If the right to speak becomes law, you will be able to fight City Hall, and if you win, the legislation says you can collect attorney’s fees.