Florida Approves Bill Shielding Travel Records of DeSantis, Elected Officials From Public

Florida Approves Bill Shielding Travel Records of DeSantis, Elected Officials From Public
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives remarks at the Heritage Foundation's 50th Anniversary Leadership Summit at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., on April 21, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Florida’s Republican-led Legislature on May 2 approved a bill that would shield the travel records of Gov. Ron DeSantis and other elected officials from being made public.

Senate Bill 1616, also known as the “Public Records/Transportation and Protective Services” Act, passed the Republican-controlled Florida House in a 84–31 vote after clearing the Senate last month.

The bill provides an exemption from public records requirements for records held by a law enforcement agency relating to certain security or transportation services for DeSantis and other elected officials.

It also includes a retroactive clause that would block the release of many records of travels already undertaken by DeSantis, who is widely expected to announce a presidential run and has in recent weeks visited a string of primary states, including New Hampshire, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan, to promote his book “The Courage to Be Free.”

According to the bill (pdf), information obtained by a law enforcement agency authorized by law to provide security or transportation services to officials should not be disclosed to the public if they may endanger the individual. This would include DeSantis, his immediate family, visiting governors and their families, the lieutenant governor, a member of the Cabinet, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the president of the Senate, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, or for “persons for whom such services are requested” by those officials.

Bill ‘Necessary’ for Safety of Officials, Law Enforcement

Republicans argued in their bill that the disclosure of such records, including security, operational, and logistical plans; mansion security for DeSantis, facility operations, access, screenings, and clearances; as well as personal information unrelated to official duties of the protected individuals could pose a risk to the officials and hamper law enforcement security efforts if made public.

“Florida Statutes, as well as the safety and security of law enforcement agents and personnel providing the security or transportation services, outweigh any public benefit that may be derived from the disclosure of such records,” the bill states.

“Therefore, it is a public necessity that records held by a law enforcement agency relating to security or transportation services … be made exempt from public records requirements.”

The bill will go into effect immediately after it is signed into law by DeSantis.

While Republicans cited security and safety issues as reasons for the bill, Democrats argued that the measure will prevent the public from knowing with whom DeSantis met and what for, pointing to the fact that taxpayers are footing the travel bill.

Democrat state Rep. Ashley Gantt said public officials should maintain transparency with the general public.

“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, Florida’s WJAX-TV reported. “And we have that mechanism in place right now.”

Trump Takes Aim at DeSantis Globe-Trotting

Elsewhere, Democrat state Rep. Anna Eskamani noted that the bill includes a retroactive clause for previous travel undertaken by DeSantis and that the measure could have implications with regard to public records requests by journalists as well as opposing candidates.

“We should not bend laws to benefit one individual and their political aspirations,” said Eskamani, according to the publication.

The bill comes as DeSantis has traveled to Israel, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom over the past week ahead of a widely expected run for president in 2024.

The campaign for Donald Trump, who is also running for president again in 2024, has taken aim at DeSantis’s recent globe-trotting.

“DeSantis’s gubernatorial office, however, refuses to tell reporters—and the public—how much taxpayer money has been spent to fund these travels, or how much DeSantis’s April globe-trotting will cost,” Steven Cheung, a campaign spokesman, told News Max in April.

Amid the pushback, DeSantis said at a press conference on Monday in Titusville, Florida that he did not propose the bill.

“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.

Approval of the latest bill comes after the Florida Legislature on April 28 approved a separate bill clarifying that DeSantis may run for president in 2024 while keeping his current position as governor of the state.

Lawmakers voted 76–34 to approve SB 7050, which includes a provision that exempts anyone running for president or vice president from the existing “resign-to-run” requirements, despite Democrats overwhelmingly opposing the move.

Bill Pan contributed to this report. 

From The Epoch Times

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