Most builders and other contracted companies doing business with the state will now have to follow open records laws.

Most builders and other contracted companies doing business with the state will now have to follow open records laws.

By Steve Miller
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

The transparency page established by state CFO Jeff Atwater has been a big help to many who seek information on state vendors. It played a big role, for instance, in a Florida Center for Investigative Reporting article on tax breaks and other incentives handed out to companies with state contracts.

A bill passed during the Florida Legislature’s last session will make even more documents public. The law expands the requirements of a company to provide records to both the public and the agency that hired the company. Similar rules existed for contractors with deals of $10 million or more, but they now apply to all state contracts.

Atwater singled out the bill for praise in a press release he sent out at the end of session, noting that it would “strengthen laws relating to contract and grant agreements so that every dollar sent to Tallahassee is effectively deployed and not a dime of taxpayer money is wasted.”

Now there’s some consternation over the new requirements. Karen Walker, a lawyer for the Holland & Knight law firm, expounded on the new law in a blog post earlier this month. Walker warned that “any person can submit a public records request,” something that often leads to litigation.

“The enactment of this new public records law, along with related publicity, could result in increased public records and associated litigation directed at private contractors who provide services to Florida state or local governmental entities,” Walker wrote.

Walker told FCIR that she didn’t write the post on behalf of any clients but simply to inform. She added that she has been contacted by a number of public agencies who are also wondering what is required of them with regard to the measure.

“The bill has both good and bad elements,” Walker said. “But the legislation says that these contractors will have to provide records in whatever electronic format the entity it is working for does,” which has a pricey potential.

Walker is a registered lobbyist whose clients last session included the Florida Press Association and Aramark Correctional Services. While Walker was not speaking on behalf of Aramark, a 2007 state investigation into the contractor discovered Aramark was doing some of its own cost cutting in the food service arena in its contract with the Florida Department of Corrections, subbing turkey for beef, allowing Aramark to increase its profit margins.

Had the new law been in effect, some of that extra money would have gone to storing information that is considered public in whatever electronic format the state demands.

Companies receiving incentives and contractor payments.