Our Opinion: More sunshine

Sep 14, 2009


Tallahassee Democrat

Trust in government appears to be at an all-time low, and as one reader asked in the morning e-mail, why shouldn't ordinary citizens "react like cornered animals" at public forums and town hall meetings?

From Washington, where the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission incompetently overlooked the Madoff Ponzi scheme, to here in Florida where the speaker of the House steps down amid a scandal of misconduct, perjury and self-interested spending of the public's money and Public Service Commission staffers appear to be "in the BlackBerry bed" with utilities, there's cause for despair.

Though 44 ballot initiatives are circling the state just now, trying to amend the state constitution in 2010, some are actually worth serious consideration.

We like the concept of one requiring higher standards for Florida's noble Sunshine Laws in regard to openness in public meetings, public records and budget writing.

It's worth a try to impose a stronger force of law if simple shame and conscience aren't enough to keep public officials on the straight and narrow.

Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami, and Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, are proposing a constitutional amendment that would:

  • Require public notice for open meetings of two or more members of joint legislative conference committees — which is where important pending legislation is hammered into final form.

  • Require a three-fourths vote, instead of simple majority, to approve any nontechnical — that is, important and possibly sneaky — amendments in the final five days of a session.

  • Set a "reasonableness" standard for circuit judges to use in ruling whether a legislatively produced document is a public record — rather that perpetuating the Legislature's authority to shield many of its documents from public view.

  • Require the budget to be written in plain language showing the source and purposes of all funds instead of publishing a bare-bones document that rank-and-file members — especially new ones — can't translate.

There isn't a thing wrong with any of these upgrades, and we urge an intelligent three-fifths of lawmakers to support putting this on the ballot in 2010. Then an intelligent 60 percent of voters should wisely vote "yes!"

Special Message from Dan Gelber's "Little Brother"- Travis Thomas

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Sen. Gelber debates against two amendments to HB 1143 that took aim at a woman's right to privacy

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Political advertisement paid for and approved by Dan Gelber.