Apr 19, 2022 - News

How to request public records in Florida

Illustration of an unlocked padlock made out of a manila folder.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Hello, citizens.

A bunch of you read our story Monday about the Florida Department of Education rejecting dozens of math textbooks because they "contained prohibited topics" and you wondered — whaaaa?

  • Which books were they and what did they say?

Driving the news: We wondered, too. The state issued a press release announcing the rejected material on Friday, but didn't include a list of the books.

  • So lots of reporters went scrambling to find it.

We asked the Department of Education for those records by email at 12:03pm Monday and got them at 3:15pm.

Yes, and: You have every right to get those records, too!

Details: Florida Statute 119 — known as the Sunshine Law — gives you the right to inspect any record used or created in the conduct of public business, with some exceptions.

The bottom line: You — yes, you — have the Constitutional right to inspect or copy records like, say, the mayor's emails, or your neighbor's code violations, or even the personnel file of a police officer.

  • You don't have to show ID.
  • You don't have to say why you want the documents.

Call or write the correct agency and ask for the records you want.

  • They can charge you for copying costs, but you can always ask to inspect the records in person without making copies.

Ben's thought bubble: I always start with the assumption that the record is public and let the clerk tell me if it's not, and why.

What's next: If you need help crafting a request, the Florida First Amendment Foundation has a list of tips, guidelines and sample requests.

  • Oh, and if you get anything good, share it with us!
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