Lobbyist to focus on public records
By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
TALLAHASSEE -- Former state Sen. Curt Kiser has added one more client to his lobbying list: the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors.
Kiser signed a contract last week with the group to lobby lawmakers against additional exemptions to the state's public records law. Already, Kiser said he has been asked to keep an eye on about 60 bills lawmakers have filed to create or keep exemptions, which newspaper editorial boards usually oppose.
His contract is for $35,000.
In particular, Kiser said he has been asked to push an amendment to the so-called Earnhardt bill, an exemption lawmakers approved last year in the wake of racing legend Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash.
At the request of Earnhardt's widow, lawmakers passed a bill forbidding the release of autopsy photographs. Several newspapers sought the pictures to help determine the cause of Earnhardt's death and whether safety improvements are needed at NASCAR, the governing organization for auto racing.
Kiser said the newspapers' amendment, if passed, would allow the media to view the pictures but not reproduce them.
Issues such as the photographs and the trouble some government officials say they have putting public, albeit personal, records online has led the organization to take the unusual step of hiring a lobbyist, Kiser said. The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors includes the St. Petersburg Times.
"I think it's a recognition of how serious the issue is and a recognition that, in the legislative process, lobbyists are a part of what goes on," Kiser said.
St. Petersburg Times managing editor Neil Brown, a board member of the newspaper society, said the Times wants to protect the public while also keeping the government from doing business in secret.
"It's a balancing act," Brown said.
"The hysteria that surrounded the Earnhardt bill reminded us that there is a risk in the legislative process of throwing the baby out with the bath water. FSNE wants to make sure the case for public access and open government is made," Brown said.
Kiser has spent much of his adult life in politics. He served for a decade in the state House of Representatives, lost a race for Congress in 1982 and then served another decade in the state Senate, leaving in 1994 for an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor.
While in the Legislature, he led efforts for Pinellas County to establish its own charter government and for the purchase of Honeymoon Island. He now works in the Tallahassee office of the law firm Holland and Knight.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times state desk
From the state wire