Records exemption could shield mansion guests
The Florida Governor's Mansion
By Jim Turner
News Service of Florida
April 11, 2023
TALLAHASSEE --- The names of certain guests at the governor’s mansion would not be disclosed to the public under Senate and House bills that also would shield travel records of the governor and other state leaders.
In party-line votes Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Senate Rules Committee and House Judiciary Committee approved the bills (SB 1616 and HB 1495), positioning them to go to the full Senate and House.
The bills would create a public-records exemption involving information held by law-enforcement agencies related to “security or transportation services” provided to the governor, 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.
The exemption also would apply to other people if requested by the governor or other state leaders for security reasons. The exemption would be retroactive to trips already taken.
“There could be situations where the governor comes to various parts of Florida, whether it's to present a bill or to meet with constituents, but that information is out there for public-records requests, and that information could then --- with enough digging, and enough time and enough effort --- might be able to get the security profile of that structure,” House bill sponsor Jeff Holcomb, R-Spring Hill, said.
Rep. Mike Gottlieb, D-Davie, unsuccessfully tried to limit the exemption by allowing records to be released after each trip.
“Therefore, we would still be protecting the security integrity,” Gottlieb said.
The Senate and House committees Tuesday added proposals to prevent disclosure of information related to mansion security operations, including information about screenings and clearances.
Senate sponsor Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, said only the names of guests attending the mansion outside of government duties would be shielded from public disclosure.
“It’s not every guest to the governor’s mansion,” Martin said. “It’s guests that are visiting him privately for non-government-related purposes --- similar to you or myself inviting somebody to our home.”
Martin said last month the bill was drafted because of an increase in “public-records requests regarding our governor and his travel simply because of the notoriety of his position in the past few
Holcomb said the proposal wouldn’t affect disclosure of the taxpayer expenses related to any trip.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement annual report outlining costs of protecting Gov. Ron DeSantis, his family, the governor’s mansion and visiting dignitaries showed taxpayers spent $6.097 million on such security in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, up 25 percent from the previous year.
While most of the expenses involved protecting DeSantis, the report noted protective services also were provided to the governors of 27 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.