Legislative (2024 Session; Final Wrap-Up) and Marsy’s Law Update

Legislative (2024 Session; Final Wrap-Up) and Marsy’s Law Update

The Regular Session began January 9 and ended at 2:25 pm March 8. Here’s the latest on the bills we followed:

Defamation (HB 757 by Rep. Andrade, R. Pensacola; SB 1086 by Sen. Garcia, R. Miami; SB 1780 by Sen. Brodeur, R. Lake Mary)

These are scaled down versions of last year’s bills. The bills change the venue provisions, again raise a presumption of actual malice if an anonymous source is involved and the plaintiff can prove falsity and attempts to create a false light claim related to the use of artificial intelligence. They include take-down requirements for publishers to limit actual damages and entitlement to the fair reporting privilege, and a pre-trial “veracity hearing.”

STATUS: The Senate bills were each assigned to 3 committees. SB 1780 was later aligned with the House bill, passed its first committee, and was then fast tracked to just 1 more committee. SB 1780, however, later stalled and died in committee.  The House bill passing its 3 assigned committees but later died on the floor calendar. 

Various media followed the bills and many conservative groups opposed them, and toward the end of session it became apparent that leadership was not going to move them to the next level. While dead this year, we could see the bills refiled next session.

Self-Storage Units (HB 283 by Rep. Borrero, R. Doral; SB 456 by Sen. Harrell, R. Stuart)

Allows, in lieu of newspapers, notice of self-storage unit liens on “a public website that customarily conducts or advertises personal property auctions.” STATUS: Each bill was referred to 3 committees. The House bill passed its first 2 committees on a party line vote. Senate bill passed its first committee 8-2 on 1/29.  Thereafter, however, neither bill moved, and both later died in committee at end of session.

Wrecker/Towing Company Lien Notice (HB 179 by Rep. Bell, R. Fort Meade; SB 332 by Sen. Burgess, R.  Zephyrhills; SB 774 by Sen. Perry, R. Gainesville))

 These bills end newspaper notice regarding wrecker lien foreclosures and allow notification on a “publicly available website maintained by an approved third-party service.” The third-party service also must “electronically report to the agency via an electronic data exchange process using a web interface” the lien sale and vehicle information.  The House bill (HB 179) passed its committees and the floor. The House language deleting newspaper notice was later added to SB 774, by Sen. Perry, which was later laid on the table and replaced with the House bill (HB 179), which was then passed the Senate unanimously. The result is that newspaper notice is no longer required for these lien notices—despite strong opposition by FPA and allies at committee hearings, through member outreach, and in communications to leadership and sponsors.

Deregulation of  Public Schools; School Board Notices (SB 7002 by Senate Ed. Pre-k-12 Committee; HB 7039 by Choice & Innovation Subcommittee)

The Senate bill allows school board notices relating to budgets and millage to be placed on the county optional website established under the 2022 law or just the district website as opposed to newspapers. Further, the bill originally allowed notices of regular and special meetings of the district school board to be placed only on the county website and not in the newspaper. The related House bill contains bad language deleting all newspaper notices.  STATUS: Met with Senate committee staff which resulted in an amendment allowing newspaper notice as an option for meeting notification. Amended Senate bill passed committees and Senate floor and the measure was later passed by the House.

Marsy’s Law Fla. Supreme Court

Recently, the Florida Supreme Court issued its opinion in the City of Tallahassee police identity case finding that Marsy’s Law does not protect identification of victims’ names in general.  The opinion is the best development yet since enactment of ML’s language about protecting victim names.

This is a summary from Mark Caramanica with the Thomas, LoCicero firm who has been representing the media coalition before the Court:

The Court takes a straightforward textual approach and makes a clear distinction between victim identities and location/harassment information to conclude that no ML victim can hide their mere identity under the law.  The court also found it illogical when considering the confrontation clause and having to read the law consistent with our constitutional right to public records (noting that when identities are protected in the law they are done so explicitly).

For those writing about the case we have the following comment: “Today’s decision is a win for government transparency.  The Court applied a common sense approach to interpreting Marsy’s Law that reins in overzealous applications that hide newsworthy information from the public.  In this case, the issues could not have been weightier and the Court’s ruling prevents police officers from shielding their names when on-duty shootings occur.

Crime Victim’s Rights (HB 1605 Pub. Rec. 1607 by Rep. Brannan (R. Lake City))

As anticipated, House bills filed on the first day of Session seek to reverse the above positive Florida Supreme Court decision.  The bills would work in tandem to prevent the disclosure of the identity of any crime victim and note that LEOs can qualify as crime victims even in cases of on-duty shootings. STATUS: House bills assigned to 3 committees but never moved and died in committee at session end. No Senate companion was filed.  Marsy’s Law of Florida recently released a statement that they do not support secrecy of on-duty law enforcement officer identities for those who use physical force.