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Gelber Unveils Open Record Amendment

Florida’s budget process is unduly fraught with secrecy and should be opened up to more public scrutiny, a Florida lawmaker said Thursday, unveiling a proposed constitutional amendment he says will do just that.

Speaking to reporters, Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, proposed a joint resolution that would ask lawmakers to put an amendment to voters in November 2010.

Sponsored by Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, in the House, the resolution would tighten open meeting requirements and raise the bar for amendments made during special session or during the last days of session.

“Everybody up here by definition is elected and they know what people back home are saying about this process,” said Gelber, a Democratic candidate for attorney general and former House minority leader. “This is a real opportunity to change the way we do business.”

The proposal would be the first major expansion of the state open records law in more than a decade by boosting standards for state lawmakers who are now exempt from some of the same standards to which local officials and executive branch employees are held.

Specifically, the proposal would:

-Require that budget bills be written in “plain language” to include the revenue source, the chief reasons for the spending and where to get additional information.

-Require budget conference committees to notice meetings whenever as few as two lawmakers are scheduled to meet.

-Require a three-fourths vote to approve amendments to bills offered during special session or during the last five days of regular session.

-Set a “reasonable standard” threshold that would allow state circuit courts the authority to rule on challenges to the Legislative decisions to close meetings or deny open records requests.

“I’m not saying the provisions I have laid out are the best ones,” Gelber said. “I certainly think others will have ideas that may be better or make more sense. …What’s most important is that (somebody) has started the discussion about how we change the way we do business.”

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