Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual
Chapter updated: 01/14/2011

B. Government in the Sunshine Law and Related Statutes

286.011 Public meetings and records; public inspection; criminal and civil penalties.--
(1) All meetings of any board or commission of any state agency or authority or of any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision, except as otherwise provided in the Constitution, at which official acts are to be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, and no resolution, rule, or formal action shall be considered binding except as taken or made at such meeting. The board or commission must provide reasonable notice of all such meetings.
(2) The minutes of a meeting of any such board or commission of any such state agency or authority shall be promptly recorded, and such records shall be open to public inspection. The circuit courts of this state shall have jurisdiction to issue injunctions to enforce the purposes of this section upon application by any citizen of this state.

(3)(a) Any public officer who violates any provision of this section is guilty of a noncriminal infraction, punishable by fine not exceeding $500.

(b) Any person who is a member of a board or commission or of any state agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision who knowingly violates the provisions of this section by attending a meeting not held in accordance with the provisions hereof is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(c) Conduct which occurs outside the state which would constitute a knowing violation of this section is a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(4) Whenever an action has been filed against any board or commission of any state agency or authority or any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision to enforce the provisions of this section or to invalidate the actions of any such board, commission, agency, or authority, which action was taken in violation of this section, and the court determines that the defendant or defendants to such action acted in violation of this section, the court shall assess a reasonable attorney's fee against such agency, and may assess a reasonable attorney's fee against the individual filing such an action if the court finds it was filed in bad faith or was frivolous. Any fees so assessed may be assessed against the individual member or members of such board or commission; provided, that in any case where the board or commission seeks the advice of its attorney and such advice is followed, no such fees shall be assessed against the individual member or members of the board or commission. However, this subsection shall not apply to a state attorney or his or her duly authorized assistants or any officer charged with enforcing the provisions of this section.

(5) Whenever any board or commission of any state agency or authority or any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision appeals any court order which has found said board, commission, agency, or authority to have violated this section, and such order is affirmed, the court shall assess a reasonable attorney's fee for the appeal against such board, commission, agency, or authority. Any fees so assessed may be assessed against the individual member or members of such board or commission; provided, that in any case where the board or commission seeks the advice of its attorney and such advice is followed, no such fees shall be assessed against the individual member or members of the board or commission.

(6) All persons subject to subsection (1) are prohibited from holding meetings at any facility or location which discriminates on the basis of sex, age, race, creed, color, origin, or economic status or which operates in such a manner as to unreasonably restrict public access to such a facility.

(7) Whenever any member of any board or commission of any state agency or authority or any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision is charged with a violation of this section and is subsequently acquitted, the board or commission is authorized to reimburse said member for any portion of his or her reasonable attorney's fees.

(8) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1), any board or commission of any state agency or authority or any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision, and the chief administrative or executive officer of the governmental entity, may meet in private with the entity's attorney to discuss pending litigation to which the entity is presently a party before a court or administrative agency, provided that the following conditions are met:

(a) The entity's attorney shall advise the entity at a public meeting that he or she desires advice concerning the litigation.

(b) The subject matter of the meeting shall be confined to settlement negotiations or strategy sessions related to litigation expenditures.

(c) The entire session shall be recorded by a certified court reporter. The reporter shall record the times of commencement and termination of the session, all discussion and proceedings, the names of all persons present at any time, and the names of all persons speaking. No portion of the session shall be off the record. The court reporter's notes shall be fully transcribed and filed with the entity's clerk within a reasonable time after the meeting.

(d) The entity shall give reasonable public notice of the time and date of the attorney-client session and the names of persons who will be attending the session. The session shall commence at an open meeting at which the persons chairing the meeting shall announce the commencement and estimated length of the attorney-client session and the names of the persons attending. At the conclusion of the attorney-client session, the meeting shall be reopened and the person chairing the meeting shall announce the termination of the session.

(e) The transcript shall be made part of the public record upon conclusion of the litigation.

Related sections read as follows:

286.0105 Notices of meetings and hearings must advise that a record is required to appeal.--

Each board, commission, or agency of this state or of any political subdivision thereof shall include in the notice of any meeting or hearing, if notice of the meeting or hearing is required, of such board, commission, or agency, conspicuously on such notice, the advice that, if a person decides to appeal any decision made by the board, agency, or commission with respect to any matter considered at such meeting or hearing, he or she will need a record of the proceedings, and that, for such purpose, he or she may need to ensure that a verbatim record of the proceedings is made, which record includes the testimony and evidence upon which the appeal is to be based. The requirements of this section do not apply to the notice provided in s. 200.065(3).

286.0111 Legislative review of certain exemptions from requirements for public meetings and recordkeeping by governmental entities.--

The provisions of s. 119.15, the Open Government Sunset Review Act of 1995, apply to the provisions of law which provide exemptions to s. 286.011, as provided in s. 119.15.

286.0113 General exemptions from public meetings.--

(1) That portion of a meeting that would reveal a security system plan or portion thereof made confidential and exempt by s. 119.071(3)(a) is exempt from s. 286.011 and s. 24(b), Art. I of the State Constitution.

(2)(a) A meeting at which a negotiation with a vendor is conducted pursuant to s. 287.057(1) is exempt from s. 286.011 and s. 24(b), Art. I of the State Constitution.

(b)1. A complete recording shall be made of any meeting made exempt in paragraph (a). No portion of the meeting may be held off the record.

2. The recording required under subparagraph 1. is exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution until such time as the agency provides notice of a decision or intended decision pursuant to s. 120.57(3)(a) or until 20 days after the final competitive sealed replies are all opened, whichever occurs earlier.

3. If the agency rejects all sealed replies, the recording remains exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution until such time as the agency provides notice of a decision or intended decision pursuant to s. 120.57(3)(a) concerning the reissued invitation to negotiate or until the agency withdraws the reissued invitation to negotiate. A recording is not exempt for longer than 12 months after the initial agency notice rejecting all replies.

(c) This subsection is subject to the Open Government Sunset Review Act in accordance with s. 119.15 and shall stand repealed on October 2, 2011, unless reviewed and saved from repeal through reenactment by the Legislature.

286.0115 Access to local public officials; quasi-judicial proceedings on local government land use matters.--

(1)(a) A county or municipality may adopt an ordinance or resolution removing the presumption of prejudice from ex parte communications with local public officials by establishing a process to disclose ex parte communications with such officials pursuant to this subsection or by adopting an alternative process for such disclosure. However, this subsection does not require a county or municipality to adopt any ordinance or resolution establishing a disclosure process.

(b) As used in this subsection, the term "local public official" means any elected or appointed public official holding a county or municipal office who recommends or takes quasi-judicial action as a member of a board or commission. The term does not include a member of the board or commission of any state agency or authority.

(c) Any person not otherwise prohibited by statute, charter provision, or ordinance may discuss with any local public official the merits of any matter on which action may be taken by any board or commission on which the local public official is a member. If adopted by county or municipal ordinance or resolution, adherence to the following procedures shall remove the presumption of prejudice arising from ex parte communications with local public officials.

1. The substance of any ex parte communication with a local public official which relates to quasi-judicial action pending before the official is not presumed prejudicial to the action if the subject of the communication and the identity of the person, group, or entity with whom the communication took place is disclosed and made a part of the record before final action on the matter.

2. A local public official may read a written communication from any person. However, a written communication that relates to quasi-judicial action pending before a local public official shall not be presumed prejudicial to the action, and such written communication shall be made a part of the record before final action on the matter.

3. Local public officials may conduct investigations and site visits and may receive expert opinions regarding quasi-judicial action pending before them. Such activities shall not be presumed prejudicial to the action if the existence of the investigation, site visit, or expert opinion is made a part of the record before final action on the matter.

4. Disclosure made pursuant to subparagraphs 1., 2., and 3. must be made before or during the public meeting at which a vote is taken on such matters, so that persons who have opinions contrary to those expressed in the ex parte communication are given a reasonable opportunity to refute or respond to the communication. This subsection does not subject local public officials to part III of chapter 112 for not complying with this paragraph.

(2)(a) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1), a county or municipality may adopt an ordinance or resolution establishing the procedures and provisions of this subsection for quasi-judicial proceedings on local government land use matters. The ordinance or resolution shall provide procedures and provisions identical to this subsection. However, this subsection does not require a county or municipality to adopt such an ordinance or resolution.

(b) In a quasi-judicial proceeding on local government land use matters, a person who appears before the decisionmaking body who is not a party or party-intervenor shall be allowed to testify before the decisionmaking body, subject to control by the decisionmaking body, and may be requested to respond to questions from the decisionmaking body, but need not be sworn as a witness, is not required to be subject to cross-examination, and is not required to be qualified as an expert witness. The decisionmaking body shall assign weight and credibility to such testimony as it deems appropriate. A party or party-intervenor in a quasi-judicial proceeding on local government land use matters, upon request by another party or party-intervenor, shall be sworn as a witness, shall be subject to cross-examination by other parties or party-intervenors, and shall be required to be qualified as an expert witness, as appropriate.

(c) In a quasi-judicial proceeding on local government land use matters, a person may not be precluded from communicating directly with a member of the decisionmaking body by application of ex parte communication prohibitions. Disclosure of such communications by a member of the decisionmaking body is not required, and such nondisclosure shall not be presumed prejudicial to the decision of the decisionmaking body. All decisions of the decisionmaking body in a quasi-judicial proceeding on local government land use matters must be supported by substantial, competent evidence in the record pertinent to the proceeding, irrespective of such communications.

(3) This section does not restrict the authority of any board or commission to establish rules or procedures governing public hearings or contacts with local public officials.

286.012 Voting requirement at meetings of governmental bodies.--

No member of any state, county, or municipal governmental board, commission, or agency who is present at any meeting of any such body at which an official decision, ruling, or other official act is to be taken or adopted may abstain from voting in regard to any such decision, ruling, or act; and a vote shall be recorded or counted for each such member present, except when, with respect to any such member, there is, or appears to be, a possible conflict of interest under the provisions of s. 112.311, s. 112.313, or s. 112.3143. In such cases, said member shall comply with the disclosure requirements of s. 112.3143.

286.26 Accessibility of public meetings to the physically handicapped.--

(1) Whenever any board or commission of any state agency or authority, or of any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or other political subdivision, which has scheduled a meeting at which official acts are to be taken receives, at least 48 hours prior to the meeting, a written request by a physically handicapped person to attend the meeting, directed to the chairperson or director of such board, commission, agency, or authority, such chairperson or director shall provide a manner by which such person may attend the meeting at its scheduled site or reschedule the meeting to a site which would be accessible to such person.

(2) If an affected handicapped person objects in the written request, nothing contained in the provisions of this section shall be construed or interpreted to permit the use of human physical assistance to the physically handicapped in lieu of the construction or use of ramps or other mechanical devices in order to comply with the provisions of this section.