Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office still won’t release public records about Israel trip

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet meet in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019. He signed HB 741 shortly after. Source: Governor's office.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office still has not released public records for a trip that he and 98 people from Florida, including Florida’s three elected Cabinet members, took to Israel in May.

The Florida Phoenix requested the records nearly seven weeks ago. The Phoenix asked on April 16 about how much the May 24-31 expedition would cost taxpayers, what agencies and domestic or overseas groups might be chipping in towards the costs, the governor’s itinerary,  and whether any state, federal, or overseas agencies were participating.

Asked Thursday about the status of the Phoenix’s April request, the office said only that it was in receipt of the query and would announce any updates.

That long response time is “absolutely ridiculous and probably a violation of the public records law,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation.

“The [governor’s office] must acknowledge your request promptly and in good faith; it then has a reasonable period of time in which to produce the requested records. ‘Reasonable’ has been defined by the courts as the time it takes to locate the requested records, review for exempt information and provide a copy,” she said. “It should not take seven weeks to produce what on its face is a simple public record request.”

Press aides to the governor have blamed such delays on a public records request backlog inherited from the administration of former Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

The governor’s aides released the names of the 98 people on the trip (including the DeSantis and the Cabinet) two days before they left Florida. The list included lobbyists, government aides and agency leaders, religious leaders, academics and some of the most powerful business interests in the state. They released the itinerary on May 23.

The trip included a Cabinet meeting, broadcast to Florida via the Florida Channel – although the feed to an audience in the Cabinet’s meeting room was beset by technical glitches. A state trial judge in Tallahassee rejected the First Amendment Foundation’s request to enjoin the meeting as an alleged Sunshine Law violation. Officials made the meeting agenda available about one week in advance.

According to the governor’s office, the trip resulted in more than 20 agreements pledging cooperation between Floridian and Israeli colleges and universities, businesses, and agencies.

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