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Florida poised to make DeSantis’ travel records secret

Politico by Gary Fineout

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ use of state planes and other information about his official travel could soon be secret under a far-reaching bill that is coming while the Republican governor has been ramping up visits across the country ahead of a likely presidential campaign.

The Florida Senate passed the bill Wednesday by a 28-12 vote, with Republicans using their supermajority to pass the measure since the Florida Constitution requires exemptions to the state’s public records law to clear a required two-thirds threshold. The legislation heads next to the Florida House, where lawmakers are also expected to pass it.

The legislation would not only apply to future travels by DeSantis, but it would also apply retroactively to all records dealing with the governor’s use of the state plane, as well as other top state officials such as legislative leaders.

Republicans contend they are pushing for the bill, SB 1616, at the urging of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the agency which now manages the state plane used by the governor and which has been inundated with record requests. GOP lawmakers asserted that releasing the information would allow someone to look for “patterns” that could jeopardize DeSantis’ security.

“Everything we do is monitored,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples). “Bad actors can find out a lot. … I think it’s perfectly appropriate. Here we have a young governor who has young children, a young family. God forbid something would happen because information is out there.”

Republican supporters also said there was nothing in the legislation that would alter campaign finance laws that require state political officials to disclose when they use political committees or campaigns to pay for travel.

But Democrats ripped the bill as a way to keep DeSantis’ actions out of public view while open government advocates called it one of the worst ever proposed exemptions to the state’s much-lauded Sunshine Law.

“It’s so clearly an attempt to protect this information from reporters wanting to know how taxpayer money is being spent,” said state Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat.

Barbara Petersen, the executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, called the legislation “stunning” and “unbelievable.”

“It’s beyond the pale,” said Petersen, an attorney who has tracked open records laws and issues for 30 years. “It blows a hole in the public records law. … This is a governor who doesn’t want anyone to know what he’s doing.”

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