Personally identifiable information collected during the census of homeless people is exempt from Florida’s sweeping public records laws, according to a bill tabled for final passage in the House of Representatives on Friday.
Republican Rep. Fiona McFarland from Sarasota submitted the bill (HB699), meaning personal information collected for a federal database on the homeless does not become a public record. McFarland asked that their bill be replaced with a similar Senate version (SB934), which sen. Joe Gruters sponsored and passed by the Senate on February 10.
McFarland said the time has come for this exception to Florida’s broad Sunshine Law, especially since the past two years have meant unstable living conditions for many people.
“When a person uses homeless services, whether it’s spending a night at a shelter or being a victim of domestic violence, their information is entered into a federal database called the Homeless Management Information System,” she explained. “This creates an exemption from public records so information about the homeless remains private and in the hands of those who need to use it.”
McFarland said she doesn’t want confidential information coming out that could come back to pursue someone who really needed help at the time or stop someone from seeking help because of the possibility of it being exposed.
“The last thing we want to do is have their information become a public record that would harm them in any way as they seek future employment or any other area of their lives,” she said.
Open government advocates said they were not as concerned about this exemption from public records as some others. legislation (SB520) that would exclude information on candidates running for president of state universities was the main concern of public record advocates at that meeting.
On Friday, the House of Representatives approved this presidential search bill, and the measure will next go to the governor’s desk. The calculation finally succeeded Almost 10 years of trials to push for an exception to the Sunshine Law.
Many exemptions requested during this session arose out of concerns about the disclosure of personal information, which could then be used for identity theft, he said Virginia Hamrick. Hamrick is a staff attorney for the First Change Foundationan advocacy group for open government based in Tallahassee.
At this meeting, exemptions were sought for persons in accident reports, victims of sexual harassment and persons present at state executions.
The exemption for the homeless, which was prepared for Friday, meets the requirements of the Florida Constitution for an exemption, Hamrick said.