The Room Where It Happens
Florida’s open meeting law, often called the Sunshine Law, primarily impacts local governments in two ways:
Requires public notice of government meetings where decisions will be made
Requires opportunities for the public to be heard ahead of decision-making
In essence, government decision-making must take place in full view of the public. This means that confidential meetings are prohibited under most circumstances.
The Sunshine Law also prohibits any communications that are:
Between members of the same board, and are
About matters that will foreseeably come before that board, and that
Do not provide reasonable notice to the public of the matter being discussed.
This prohibition includes phone calls, emails, and even using staff as go-betweens.
Remember that this prohibition applies only to members of the same board. The prohibition does not apply if two elected officials from different local governments, or even two officials from the same local government who do not sit on the same board, decide to communicate without notifying the public.
“Reasonable notice” is the key
Florida law does not define “reasonable notice” or “reasonable opportunity” to be heard, but we do have some examples:
3 days was considered reasonable notice even when the noticed project’s cost ballooned from $1.3 million to $8.8 million
1.5 hours notice was not considered reasonable
Florida’s Attorney General issues formal opinions to help guide local governments. The overarching theme is that what is “reasonable” is a very fact-specific question. Consequently, properly applying the Sunshine Law can take a little research. Fortunately, the Florida Attorney General’s Special Counsel for Open Government has prepared this quick reference.
What happens if the Sunshine Law is violated?
Policies adopted or decisions that were made in violation of the Sunshine Law’s public notice and opportunity to be heard provisions can be rendered invalid. Likewise, under the Sunshine Law:
Violations are punishable by a $500 fine
Knowing violations are second-degree misdemeanors (which are punishable by up to 60-days imprisonment)
Want to learn more?
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