A new state law shielding Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ travel records has drawn a court challenge from The Washington Post, which contends the law violates the state Constitution by blocking the public’s right to access government records and open meetings.
The law was passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature just weeks before DeSantis kicked off his presidential campaign. Lawmakers said it safeguards the governor and his family. But it also shields from disclosure DeSantis’ spending of public funds and details on his travel aboard state and private jets and on international trade missions.
“The exemption sweeps from public view every record relating in any way to the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, including the most basic information needed to inform the public about what those services are for,” according to the Post’s lawsuit.
DeSantis’ travel, both in-state and across the country, has raised questions about the governor deploying public dollars as well as state policy in efforts to advance his longshot bid for the Republican presidential nomination. DeSantis is far behind GOP frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, in most polls, including in Florida, their shared home state.
Florida has a long history of granting the public open access to records and meetings, affirmed in state law and in a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1992. However, the legislature regularly enacts exemptions to the open government laws, similar to the travel shield approved in May.
The governor’s office and state agencies also commonly delay or demand payment of significant research costs when it comes to fulfilling public records requests.
The Washington Post’s latest court filing, made last month and first reported by Politico, follows the media company’s attempt earlier this year to get records on DeSantis’ travel from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, whose agents provide security and accompany the governor on most of his trips.
Leon Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey responded to the legal challenge then by ordering FDLE to surrender “nonexempt public records.” But the agency cited the new travel shield in withholding many records. A hearing on the Post’s latest challenge is scheduled Jan. 10.
John Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on X, formerly known as Twitter, @JKennedyReport.