Florida Sunshine Law
"Florida has the most expansive open government laws in the country." - Open Government Guide: Access to Public Records and Meetings in Florida, Sixth Edition
Florida's Sunshine Law provides a "right of access" to governmental proceedings of public boards or commissions (i.e., meetings) and the Florida Public Records Act extends the "right of access" to include all documents and other materials made or received in connection with official university business (i.e., email, meeting notes, sound recordings, photographs, text messages, etc.). The law has many implications pertaining to how we do business at UWF, such as; record retention, responding to public record requests, data classification, and ensuring meeting minutes are recorded.
Violations of the Sunshine Law can result in removal from office, noncriminal infractions, and criminal penalties (possibility of a second-degree misdemeanor which can include imprisonment and/ or a fine).
ATTN UWF PERSONNEL: Please note that all public records requests should be forwarded to the Office of the General Counsel at the time they are received
Public Records Requests
It is the policy of UWF that all employees must accept public records requests when asked. Please take note that certain information is exempt from public record requests, which can include; personally identifiable information (PII), matters relating to trade secrets/ intellectual property, applicable competitive solicitation documents, and other data protected by HIPAA and FERPA.
Therefore, whenever a request is received to inspect or copy a University record, a determination has to be made as to whether the requested record is exempt or contains confidential information. Such determinations can only be made with approval from or by the Office of the General Counsel.
The Florida Supreme Court interprets "public records" as "all materials made or received in connection with official business used to perpetuate, communicate, or formalize knowledge." This applies to:
- Written documents (e.g., notes taken during a staff meeting)
- Email (even if sent from personal computer or phone as long as it relates to university business)
- Sound recordings
- PowerPoint presentations
- Text messages (regardless of where the text originated, as long as it relates to university business)
Sunshine Law FAQs
Below are some Frequently Asked Questions regarding Florida's Sunshine and Public Records Law:
Can an employee reject a public records request for being "overbroad" or lacking specificity?
No. As long as the person making the request provides enough information for you to identify the records, UWF is obligated to furnish copies or allow the inspection of the records requested.
How long should public records be kept?
Record retention schedules vary and are subject to the Florida Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services. Official schedules can be found in the GS5 for Public Universities and Colleges and the GS1 for State and Local Government Agencies.
Any questions or concerns regarding record keeping should be directed to UWF's Records Management Program, which can be consulted for on-site training and to establish an office Records Departmental Liaison. This information and many other helpful resources are located on UWF's Records Management Program Website.
What about the rules for record destruction?
The same rules govern public record destruction that govern record retention. Official schedules can be found in the GS5 for Public Universities and Colleges and the GS1 for State and Local Government Agencies or through the UWF's Records Management Program Website.
What is a reasonable period of time responding to a public records request?
Although, there is no set time table for responding to a request, the university is required to make a good faith effort to complete any public record request within a reasonable period. The definition of a "reasonable period" is going to vary depending on the type and circumstances of the request. For example, an "extensive or voluminous" request, or requests made just before or during a holiday period, will require additional time to process.
It is UWF policy that all public records requests are to be forwarded to the Office of the General Counsel, who will help to ensure appropriate measures are taken to meet this requirement.
Am I required to answer questions about, provide a summary of, or re-format information included in a public records request?
Additionally, you are not required to make a new record or meet the requestor's timetable. UWF is only required to provide copies, or allow inspection of, an existing record.
What should I do if my office receives a public records request?
The Office of General Counsel is designated as the office responsible for managing and overseeing public records requests. They can be contacted by phone at 850.474.3420 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, requests can be submitted through the UWF Service Desks/ General Counsel Portal, which can be accessed through your myUWF dashboard.
What about the cost of a public records request?
Pursuant to Florida law, the university may charge up to 15 cents per one-sided page or 20 cents per two-sided page.
Additionally, Florida courts have deemed that if a request requires "extensive use" of resources, the university may also implement a special service charge. "Extensive use," has been defined as any process to produce records that exceeds 15 minutes. This includes the time required to identify and collect, review for exempt material, copy, and refile a records request. The Office of the General Counsel will provide the requestor with an estimate when necessary.
When in doubt... keep it!
If you are unsure whether or not the purpose of a document is "made or received in connection with official business used to perpetuate, communicate, or formalize knowledge," keep it.
Helpful Sunshine Law and Public Records Resources:
- Government in the Sunshine Manual
- Florida Governor Office of Open Government
- Florida First Amendment Foundation
- The Florida Bar: Reporter's Handbook
- Florida Statutes, Chapter 119, Public Records
- Open Government Guide (All States)
- UWF's Records Management Program
- Sunshine Recruitment
- UWF Libraries: Florida State Law