Public records exemption for mass shooting incidents moves forward in Senate

Published: Feb. 21, 2019 at 5:15 PM EST
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By: Capitol News Service

March 7, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- A bill that could shield video and pictures of mass shooting incidents from the public record passed its final Senate committee Wednesday morning.

The bill leaves exceptions to the public records exemption for victims' families.

Senators expressed some concerns that blocking the records could prevent media from holding government accountable for poor responses to mass shooting incidents.

Sponsor Senator Tom Lee says the legislation comes from a place of legitimate concern.

“The experiences that certain members have had touring the crime scene down in Parkland I think is what led to us trying to take something like this up,” said Lee. "There are some groups out there that are using this information for just some really nefarious purposes.”

Under the current bill, citizens could petition a court to gain access to the records, but Senator Lee suggested major changes to the legislation are likely before it comes to a floor vote.

By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service

February 21, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Balancing the rights of victims and their families involved in mass shootings and the public’s right to know proved a difficult task for lawmakers Thursday afternoon in the state capitol.

Photos, video and audio leading up to, during or after a mass killing of three or more people would be exempt from public records under new legislation.

“First of all, the potential commercialization of it getting into the wrong hands, but there is also some concern about this video and photographic evidence being used to train people to do similar acts,” said Senator Tom Lee.

The Southern Poverty Law says four words in the bill, all acts or events, would have kept video of cops hiding, not engaging, at Parkland from public view.

“It might show the perpetrator entering and how they got in. It might show the footage afterwards which would show how he or she got out. It shows what law enforcement response was,” said Scott McCoy with the SPLC.

"It was the ability to access those records, and then the reporting on them, that made a difference,” said Barbara Petersen with the First Amendment Foundation.

As it’s written, the legislation wouldn’t protect the victims from a shooting at a Tallahassee yoga studio, because only two died.

“I say why not two? Why not one? My State Attorney in Jacksonville has brought a case where there’s this one person that was killed and bad people want pictures of a little girl who was murdered. And that’s wrong,” said Senator Aaron Bean.

So far, compromise has proved elusive, yet both sides say they are sympathetic to the other.

The legislation does allow a court to order records be made public, but in the Parkland case, media outlets spent $100,000 in legal fees, something experts say could not be sustained for multiple cases.