“It’s the most regressive bill in the history of Florida’s public records law, the first rollback of a substantial right,” said Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation.

House panel OKs fee limit in records cases

Judges would have discretion on awards when citizens sue.

A bill that open government advocates say would severely restrict access to government records got a unanimous favorable vote in its first committee hearing in the state House Wednesday.

House Bill 1021 would make it discretionary, rather than mandatory, for judges to award legal fees when a citizen sues a government agency for wrongly withholding public records. It faces two more committee hearings before a House floor vote. The companion Senate bill hasn’t yet been heard by a committee.

Advocates say the change is needed because of “a cottage industry” involving unscrupulous lawyers inundating government agencies, including small towns, with public records requests, and then suing for fees when the government can’t comply quickly.

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