Bill Requiring Public Speech At Meetings Passes Senate


Sometimes the Florida Legislature gets one right.

The state Senate this week unanimously passed a bill that requires governments covered by the Sunshine Law to provide “a reasonable opportunity” to the public to speak on issues.

The bill would reverse two recent court rulings:

(1)  In Kessler v. Community Maritime Park Associates, the First District Court of Appeal in 2010 said the phrase “open to the public” in the Sunshine Law did not grant the public a right to speak.

(2)   In Kennedy v. St. Johns Water Management District, the Fifth District Court of Appeal in 2011 ruled that the district was within its rights to limit participation to members of the public it handpicked to speak.

Under the bill (SB 206), governments would be allowed to draft rules governing the participation of the public.  These include time limits and requirements that the representative of a group speak for a large number of folks with the same views.

The bill would allow attorneys fees be assessed against any government that breaks the law and gets sued by a citizen.

It’s a good idea from state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, and some other Republicans.  Let’s hope it becomes law.

6 Responses to “Bill Requiring Public Speech At Meetings Passes Senate”

  1. ann says:

    Now if only the hypocrites in Tallahasee would make themselves subject to the Sunshine Laws!

  2. Woody72 says:

    I don’t see what good this will do. Public meetings are mostly just a place to vent after your elected officials screw you in private. I’ve been to more commission meetings and workshops then I care to count. And not once did I not know the outcome before it started. Lobbyist meet daily with commissioners and work out every detail in private months before these public meetings are scheduled.

  3. Richard J Kaplan says:

    Lauderhill provides public comment both before the Regular Meeting and on for each item on the Agenda for years up to 3 minutes. Any member of the public can even pull an item from the Consent Agenda and speak on it, and yes it can influence on our elected officials may vote on an issue.

    Representatives of groups have been allowed additional opportunities to comment and respond in certain circumstances.

    In our case it probably will not make much of any difference and it has usually not created problems.

    As far as lobbyist goes, probably in the county it is a bigger deal, but I have noticed how few lobbyist I meet with. Only 1 so far this year. Mostly I meet with government employees, residents and local business owners, and everyone of them signs in to meet me in my office at City Hall.

  4. Sam the Sham says:

    I think that it is great that it works in Lauderhill, but I don’t know if those rules would work everywhere or in all cases. In Deerfield, you can sign up in advance to speak for 3 minutes before a meeting, or you can just walk up and speak after the meeting for 3 minutes, but you are not allowed to speak on any agenda items. I think you should be able to talk about anything relevant for your 3 minutes, and not be censored on agenda items. If every issue was able to be addressed publicly, we would have a handful of gadflies and wannabe politicians monopolizing the meeting. It would never end. I have seen lots of meetings go past midnight, they would be there til dawn if allowed to speak endlessly.

  5. Richard J. Kaplan says:

    At one time we used to go late into the evening, but that wasn’t necessarily the public’s fault.

    One key point is that the Public gets to speak, but no cross talking and no comments from staff or commission until it is closed to the public. In other words, no one is to carry on a conversation with the Public. Just let the Public have their time.

    What you will find is that people will comment, but eventually we found they will limit their comments. Our meetings handles between 15 and 80 items in a night, and usually is less than 2 1/2 hours.

    BTW, it is possible that the public speaking before any items are heard in mass may be allowed to satisfy this law.

    Sam the Sham, thank you about my city.

  6. Bob says:

    Hi Buddy,

    I checked and found out that Rep. Marty Kiar is the House Sponsor. So it looks like it is a bipartisan bill.

    It was bipartisan. The vote was unanimous.