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Governor Changes Public Record Policy

Sara Brockmann

Gov. Rick Scott’s office has changed part of its public records policy. Advocates are speaking out against the change, which they say makes it harder to access government communication conducted through private emails and text messages.

Scott’s lawyers announced state employees are now the “custodians” of their private emails and text messages that deal with state work.

This means journalists and members of the public will have to ask a state employee personally for records of state business conducted over private accounts. In the past, a state agency would hand over any public record on the subject requested, regardless of what type of email was used.

Barbara Peterson of the First Amendment Foundation said this change effectively cripples the state’s public records laws.

She said many state officials use private emails or text messages to conduct state business – and it’s not illegal. But, Peterson said, this policy change makes that information almost inaccessible.

“It virtually shuts down my ability to get access to those kinds of communications that can be critical in terms of public oversight and accountability,” she said.

Peterson said this also shifts "tremendous" legal liability on to state employees --particularly more visible employees such as staff at the governor’s office.