Florida Politics

Legislature approves keeping college, university emergency plans a secret

Florida International University Police officer Sonia Meneses, left, chats with FIU students Colin Lugo, center, and Christian Colevas in fall 2015 at FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus in Miami.
Florida International University Police officer Sonia Meneses, left, chats with FIU students Colin Lugo, center, and Christian Colevas in fall 2015 at FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus in Miami. Miami Herald file photo

The substance of plans Florida’s public college and universities have for responding to campus emergencies or threats will soon be kept secret, under a proposed law that is on its way to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

The measure creates an exemption in Florida’s public records law that shields from disclosure such materials as photographs, presentations, sheltering arrangements, training manuals and equipment and supplies related to emergency response strategies.

Senators approved HB 1079 by a 36-0 vote on Thursday without any debate, a week after the House also passed it unanimously.

Three Naples Republicans sponsored the measure: Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and Reps. Bob Rommel and Byron Donalds.

Passidomo said the bill was in the vein of President Donald Trump’s philosophy of “let’s not tell the bad guys in advance our plans for responses to terrorist attacks, public safety crises and other emergencies on colleges and universities.”

Passidomo said the current Sunshine Law has a loophole that doesn’t address colleges and universities.

“We do have a public records exemption for governmental responses to terrorist attacks, but the way it’s worded it leaves out the colleges and universities — and of, course we want them protected as well,” she said.

In describing lawmakers’ justification for it, the bill states: “ A campus emergency response affects the health and safety of the students, faculty, staff, and the public at large. If campus emergency responses were made publicly available for inspection or copying, they could be used to hamper or disable the response of a public postsecondary educational institution to an act of terrorism, or other public safety crisis or emergency” which could increase “the number of Floridians subjected to fatal injury.”

The First Amendment Foundation — of which the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times are members — did not take a formal position on the legislation.

If Scott signs it into law, the exemption would take effect July 1. It would be repealed in October 2022, if the Legislature doesn’t extend it.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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