Trade Secret Exemption from Public Records Unchanged

In an earlier post, I discussed public records legislation that would have removed the trade secrets exemption for businesses contracting with state agencies.

But HB 459 died in the process during the 2018 session that ended in March, along with three other pieces of legislation related to this issue: HB-461, SB-958, and SB-956.

So, the law remains that certain public records are exempt from public disclosure if they contain trade secrets.

The genesis of at least a few of these bills is a 2016 dispute between the House Speaker and the public tourism agency Visit Florida. The agency hired rapper Pitbull as a spokesman and refused to reveal the terms of his contract, including how much the taxpayers were paying for his services.

Pitbull argued that the trade secret exemption protected the pricing terms in the contract.  Eventually, he and the tourism agency saw the error of their ways and released the information.

Of course, protection for trade secrets exists for a reason. It helps to protect companies’ valuable intellectual property from unfair access and use by competitors. That’s good public policy.

But the amount of money Florida’s tourism agency paid to a celebrity spokesman is not a trade secret. The agency’s refusal to release that information was based on politics and fear of criticism, not good public policy.

Public Records Ensure Our Government’s Transparency and Accountability

Floridians have a right to know how their elected representatives are spending tax dollars. It’s in our constitution:

“Every person has the right to inspect or copy any public record made or received in connection with the official business of any public body, officer, or employee of the state, or persons acting on their behalf, except with respect to records exempted pursuant to this section or specifically made confidential by this Constitution.” – Article I, Section 24(a)

Floridians are very serious about their access to public records and meetings. They stand with many of our Founding Fathers, including Patrick Henry, who said:

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

I routinely advise clients on how to obtain public records with as minimal delay and cost as possible. If you need help obtaining public records or complying with existing public records laws, please reach out to me at 904-807-2179 or [email protected]

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