The viral #FloridaMan trend is a reflection of the state’s transparency

By Jared Sellick, COLUMIST
On March 24, 2019

The state of Florida is known for a lot of things, but perhaps our most famous attribute is our large amount of absurd crimes and strange actions that our more bizarre citizens take part in.

This Florida stereotype was highlighted this week with the viral advent of #FloridaMan on Twitter and other social media websites, in which people shared the first story that appeared on Google when they searched their birthday followed by the words, “Florida Man.”

The result would feature a story about an absurd Floridian committing an odd crime. Some examples are, “Florida man throws bicycle, then other man off bridge” or “‘Florida Man spotted riding on jet ski on Florida road… yes, road.”

However, this online phenomenon isn’t necessarily proof that Floridians are more reckless than any other state in the nation. Instead, the reason these stories are so prevalent is because of Florida laws that make police reports, that often feature strange crimes, easier to access and report on in the press.

The #FloridaMan craze is actually a testament to our state’s commitment to transparency.

It is written into the Florida statutes that, “all state, county, and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person.” These statutes make the job of a journalist looking for a crime story simpler as opposed to some of the other states.

Other states have what are termed “sunshine laws” as well, but these laws often require citizens to wait for a good deal before the records become available. The three states that have the strictest laws in terms of public access to information include Wyoming, Texas and New Hampshire, according to the Center for public integrity (CFPI).

Wyoming’s sunshine laws actually exempt their state legislature and their entire judicial branch, making reporting on those important entities much more difficult.

Texas agencies, for example, often respond to citizen requests for public information, by confirming with their Attorney General’s Office which sometimes takes 45 days to reply. Compare that to the state of Florida which “generally receive timely responses to information requests,” according to the CFPI

In New Hampshire the disciplinary record of police officers are not currently subject to their “right-to-know” laws, in Florida, those records are public information.

There is no reason to believe those odd crimes that so often create salacious headlines don’t occur in other states in the union. The difference is that Florida makes their police reports and government records more readily available to the public.

While these laws allow journalists to report on news that makes Florida seem odd to outsiders, they also allow journalists to quickly report on government records that might have been denied to the public had it not been for the Florida statutes.

One recent example in which the Florida statutes have helped increase transparency in Florida is when Broward County was compelled to allow a review of the ballots cast in the 2018 Florida Senate election. Florida’s devotion to open records was actually one of the reasons cited by the judge who allowed for the review of those ballots.

These statutes that promote transparency should be a point of pride for Floridians. All states in this country should strive for this level of transparency. While these statutes may have lead to the infamous #FloridaMan stories, that doesn’t make Florida more bizarre.

It just makes Florida more honest.

 

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