Talk about a State that no one should live in but alligators and snakes.
Open government advocates called it one of the worst ever proposed exemptions to the state’s much-lauded Sunshine Law.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ use of state planes and other information about his official travel could soon be secret under a far-reaching bill that is coming while the Republican governor has been ramping up visits across the country ahead of a likely presidential campaign.
The Florida Senate passed the bill Wednesday by a 28-12 vote, with Republicans using their supermajority to pass the measure since the Florida Constitution requires exemptions to the state’s public records law to clear a required two-thirds threshold. The legislation heads next to the Florida House, where lawmakers are also expected to pass it.
The legislation would not only apply to future travels by DeSantis, but it would also apply retroactively to all records dealing with the governor’s use of the state plane, as well as other top state officials such as legislative leaders.
Republicans contend they are pushing for the bill, SB 1616, at the urging of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the agency which now manages the state plane used by the governor and which has been inundated with record requests. GOP lawmakers asserted that releasing the information would allow someone to look for “patterns” that could jeopardize DeSantis’ security.
“Everything we do is monitored,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples). “Bad actors can find out a lot. … I think it’s perfectly appropriate. Here we have a young governor who has young children, a young family. God forbid something would happen because information is out there.”
Republican supporters also said there was nothing in the legislation that would alter campaign finance laws that require state political officials to disclose when they use political committees or campaigns to pay for travel.
But Democrats ripped the bill as a way to keep DeSantis’ actions out of public view while open government advocates called it one of the worst ever proposed exemptions to the state’s much-lauded Sunshine Law.
“It’s so clearly an attempt to protect this information from reporters wanting to know how taxpayer money is being spent,” said state Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat.
Barbara Petersen, the executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, called the legislation “stunning” and “unbelievable.”
“It’s beyond the pale,” said Petersen, an attorney who has tracked open records laws and issues for 30 years. “It blows a hole in the public records law. … This is a governor who doesn’t want anyone to know what he’s doing.”
Under then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott — a multimillionaire who owned his own jet — the state sold off planes used by the governor and other top officials. Scott sharply criticized two of his rivals in the 2010 governor’s race by pointing to news articles that detailed how they had used the state plane at the expense of taxpayers. In one instance, a state auditor questioned whether then-Attorney General Bill McCollum had misused state resources in how he used the state plane.
After DeSantis took office, state legislators authorized spending millions to acquire a jet that could be used to get the governor around the large state and where commercial travel in and out of Tallahassee is not easy.
DeSantis routinely will use the state plane if he travels somewhere to hold a press conference or to deal with emergency response efforts. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has been slow to turn over record requests showing when and where the state plane has been dispatched.
Flight tracking websites show that this year, DeSantis has used private chartered planes — or planes used by prominent Floridians — on out-of-state trips such as those connected with his book promotional tours. The governor’s office has said no state dollars have been used on those trips, but DeSantis’ political operation has not answered questions about the private planes.
But the bill legislators are poised to pass would essentially shield all information related to “security and transportation services” provided to DeSantis, his family, as well as visiting governors and their families, legislative leaders, the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court and members of the Florida Cabinet.
Passidomo asserted that she was not worried about DeSantis misusing the state plane if his travel records were no longer public.
“He thinks about these things,” she told reporters.