We The People: Penalties for Not Following Public Records Law

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Florida law allows anyone to access documents from a public agency without proof of identity or even a reason, but what are the punishments if an agency doesn't follow the rules?

Eyewitness News Reporter John Rogers explores that in this final part of the series, 'We the People'.

Everything in the dark shall be brought to light.

Florida law makes it easy for citizens to get a hold of public records, but if a public agency refuses to follow this law... there could be punishments.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum says, "There's no excuse today for not making your records available."

Florida statutes says if a member of a governmental agency knowingly violates the sunshine law, he could be guilty of a misdemeanor crime.

This means up to a year in jail and up to a one-thousand dollar fine.

ACLU Attorney Larry Spalding says, "Business and government like to do a lot of their activities behind closed doors."

But the sunshine law keeps these activities in the open.

All documents and materials made in connection with any state agency become public records.

If a public official knowingly violates this law, the person could be subject to removal from office.

But the Attorney General's office says public agencies in Florida have done a good job following the law.

Florida Sunshine Law and Public Records Attorney Alexis Lambert says, "Sometimes all we have to do is provide agencies with a friendly reminder about the statutory limits on pricing. And little problems tend to resolve themselves rather quickly."

When faced with problems in requesting public records, the first line of defense is the Attorney General's office.

The office says an individual can also file a civil suit.

"or file a criminal complaint in cases of particularly egregious conduct with the State attorney's office in your individual judicial circuit," says Lambert.

Some warning signs you can look for is if a public agency demands identification or charges an unreasonable price for your request.

Florida's public records law is meant to be available to everyone without restraint....but if the law is not followed, citizens should not hold back in speaking out.

To find out more information about public records in Florida, click on the link below.

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