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Open records backers lose twice

House bills advance to hide weapons permits and keep a lid on economic development deals.

Published March 30, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Open government advocates suffered two defeats Wednesday as House members favored an extension of a law to keep business deals secret and advanced a bill that would hide the identities of people who carry concealed weapons.

The concealed weapons bill (HB 687) passed the State Administration Council by a 8-1 vote, with two Democrats in favor.

"I thought long and hard about this," said Rep. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. "But I looked at it from the perspective I wouldn't want my name and address and other things that are supposed to be private on the Internet."

The bill was filed by Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, after an Orlando television station put a list of permit holders on its Web site.

"We had a tremendous outcry from citizens," Adams said. "The whole thing about concealed is you anticipate no one knows you have the weapon. It's all about self-protection."

More than 350,000 Floridians have concealed weapons permits.

Open records advocates say the legislation (there is a similar bill in the Senate) would deny the public information it has a right to access.

"It's a privilege to have a concealed weapons permit," said Adria Harper, director of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee. "Having no oversight is scary. We especially want to know when someone is packing heat."

Mary Brandenburg, D-West Palm Beach, cast the lone dissenting vote. "If there some reasons related to safety or public concern, I would agree it should be closed," she said in an interview. "But I haven't heard that. I just believe in government in the sunshine."

Having passed three committees, HB 687 now awaits a vote in the full House.

The House on Wednesday reviewed numerous public records laws that are up for renewal after five years, including one that cloaks economic development records for at least two years. The law has caused controversy in some parts of the state, including Palm Beach County, where the state has courted the Scripps Research Institute. It also could play a role in plans to draw the California research company SRI International to St. Petersburg.

To address concerns, Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, offered two amendments Wednesday. One called for disclosure once a deal is finalized; the other called for state or local economic development agencies to determine whether secrecy is necessary.

But both amendments were overwhelmingly defeated by the House. Republicans argued they were antibusiness.

"I challenge any one of you to come up with a horror story about its abuse," said Rep. Don Brown, R-De Funiak Springs.

The extension of the law will be up for a final vote as early as next week.

[Last modified March 30, 2006, 02:15:33]

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