Sunday, February 12, 2017
Supercilious State Senator W. GREGORY STEUBE Blasted Over Effort to Gut Florida Open Records Law
Conflict of interest? Florida State Senator W. GREGORY STEUBE (R-Sarasota) is pushing Senate Bill 80, a bill to weaken our Florida Open Records law; his law firm, BECKER & POLIAKOFF, lobbies for local governments and government contractors who want secrecy, including AMERICAN TRAFFIC SOLUTIONS, the infamous red light camera company half-owned by GOLDMAN SACHS. This is so wrong. Thanks to Governor RICHARD LYNN SCOTT for raising the issue in a letter to Speaker Corcoran, one of the other legislators who work for law firms that employ other lawyers as lobbyists. Thanks to columnist-cartoonist Andy Marlette of the Pensacola News Journal for this column:
Andy Marlette, USA TODAY NETWORK - Florida 12:36 p.m. ET Feb. 11, 2017
Grab your guns and gird your loins, Fellow Floridians. It’s almost that time of year when the Sunshine State gets super shady.
We’re talking about the annual convening of the Florida Legislature — where elected officials from all over the peninsula gather for the solemn, civic purpose of spinning on poles and performing private dances for polluters, corporate donors and higher ranking party leaders.
OK, maybe not all of them. But too many for taxpayers to be trustful.
Sometimes, certain legislators stand out for their talent and ambition. Northwest Florida’s newest congressman, Rep. Matt Gaetz, is one such alum. And look at him now! He’s up in D.C. using fake academic studies to propose scrapping the EPA. Meanwhile voters in his own district are dealing with a factory explosion, health problems, unknown amounts of unidentified chemicals, haphazard and questionable cleanup processes and a whole bunch of ongoing uncertainty. But their congressman is trying to scrap the EPA.
A Sarasota lawmaker has stepped it up with some especially ridiculous proposals this year. Yes, the Florida city famous for the Ringling Circus Museum has also produced Sen. Greg Steube, a 38-year-old who’s pitching legislation that only a clown could come up with.
Steube is the dude you may have heard of about a month ago after the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting. He fancies himself a gun guy and he used the attack that killed five and wounded eight to argue for more guns in airports. He’s also pushed for guns on college campuses, in government meetings and the right to open carry.
Hey, this is Florida. How else are we supposed to protect ourselves from man-eating reptiles? And guns in government meetings may actually be a marvelous idea. If glocks get to go everywhere else, they ought to be allowed in the Legislature, too. Now we’re talkin’ “public trust.”
But another Steube proposal presses the barrel against the head of the private sector. It would let conceal-carry permit-holders potentially sue gun-banning private businesses in the case of a mass shooting or terrorist attack or zombie stampede in which a gunless permit-holder was harmed.
So much for Republican sanctity of private property rights.
Forget that such an overreaching law is a gross betrayal of conservative principles. Forget that if a business bans guns, a permit holder retains the right not to frequent that business. Forget also that Florida has so many more important things to worry about — things like failing schools, environmental emergencies and failures in health care and child safety. Forget, too, just how plain stupid it is.
You know what business bans guns in Florida? Disney World. And if you think some clown from Sarasota is going to force such a law upon the Grand Mouse-eared Godfather of the Magic Kingdom, you belong in the circus sideshow with Steube.
Alas, even that doomed bill isn’t this lawmaker’s most offensive pre-session proposal. The most shameful shred of paper bearing Steube’s name is an underhanded assault on Florida’s Public Records Law.
Barbara Petersen and the Florida First Amendment Foundation sounded the alarm about SB 80, writing, “In our view, this legislation would eviscerate the Public Records Law by giving governments free rein to withhold public information in violation of the law.”
Say you’re an average citizen having trouble getting documents from a crooked politician.
Since you’re not a billionaire presidential candidate and don’t know any Russian hackers to help leak the records, you’re forced to get them the old fashioned way — by hiring a lawyer to sue the crooked politician’s public agency.
Say you win. Under current Florida’s Public Records Law, the no good, crooked politician’s agency has to pay your attorney fees.
But according to Petersen, Steube’s shady bill “would make that language discretionary, meaning it would be up to a judge to decide whether to award fees — or not.”
Petersen goes on, “While Florida’s law is one of the strongest in the nation, there is no enforcement mechanism. A citizen denied her constitutional right to public records has no recourse but to file suit. That in itself is a significant barrier, because it forces the citizen to find a lawyer. But without assurance of payment if the suit is successful, no lawyer would take the case.”
And there you have it. Floridians’ right to open government could be thwarted by a passive-aggressive gutting of reasonable and fair standards. No guns, bullets or permits required.
How interesting that a legislator who talks so tough on guns, resorts on such spineless, weak-jawed tactics in order to suppress citizens’ right to information.
SB 80 is an assault on liberals and conservatives alike. It’s a call to stand your ground. Call. Email. Post embarrassing memes on Steube’s Facebook page. Tweet your thoughts about the bill followed by the word “Sad!”
Just speak up now. Because session hasn’t even started yet. And the Sunshine State politics are only going to get shadier.
Andy Marlette is a columnist and editorial cartoonist for the Pensacola News Journal. Reach him at amarlette @pensacol.gannett.com