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Lawmakers sign off on shielding travel records

Photo by Ashim D'Silva on Unsplash

By Jim Turner

News Service of Florida

May 2, 2023

TALLAHASSEE --- Gov. Ron DeSantis will get to decide if his travel records, and those of other state leaders, will be concealed from the public.

The Republican-controlled Florida House on Tuesday voted 84-31 along party lines to pass a measure (SB 1616) that would shield past and future travel records of DeSantis, the governor’s immediate family, the lieutenant governor, Cabinet members, the House speaker, the Senate president and the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

Democrats said the public-records exemption would go beyond travel itineraries to also prevent the release of information about where the governor went and who attended meetings and events. They argued the legislation is less about safety than helping DeSantis as he’s expected to run for president next year.

Republicans countered the measure would help prevent people from being able to map out travel plans of DeSantis and other officials.

House sponsor Jeff Holcomb, R-Spring Hill, said “a very simple bill” about safety has become “politicized.”

“This bill is necessary because our senior state officials receive threats and death threats all of the time,” Holcomb said.

Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, said public officials in a state that prizes its public-records law should expect to provide transparency to their constituents.

“Having a level of transparency on the amount that's being spent, where it’s being spent, we owe the people we work for an answer to that,” Gantt said. “And we have that mechanism in place right now.”

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said the bill would apply retroactively and will halt public-records requests by journalists.

“We should not bend laws to benefit one individual and their political aspirations,” said Eskamani, who added that the intent of the bill could include keeping DeSantis’ travel plans away from “opposing candidates.”

DeSantis traveled last week to Japan, South Korea, Israel and the United Kingdom on a trip with the Enterprise Florida business-development agency.

Former President Donald Trump’s campaign on Tuesday sent out an email that highlighted a Politico report titled, “Who paid for Ron DeSantis’ trip overseas? No one will say.” As Trump tries to regain the presidency, DeSantis has not formally announced whether he is running.

DeSantis, while at a bill-signing event Monday in Titusville, said he didn’t “come up” with the bill, which was motivated by security concerns.

“With the security situation, how you do patterns of movements, if you’re somebody that is targeted, which unfortunately I am, and I get a lot of threats, that could be something that could be helpful for people that may not want to do good things,” DeSantis said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement provides security for the governor.

The agency’s annual “Report of Transportation and Protective Services” said it spent $5.94 million during the 2021-2022 fiscal year to protect DeSantis and his family, including the costs of securing the governor’s mansion. The total was up more than 25 percent from the previous year.

The governor and other state leaders could extend the public-records exemption to other officials for security reasons.

The measure would also keep from the public the names of people visiting the governor’s mansion on non-governmental matters.

The Senate voted 28-12 to pass the bill on April 19.

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