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Florida Business Watch Partners

            

Florida Business Watch
Phone: (727) 797-9333                    Rawlins@FloridaBusinessWatch.com

 

 
Florida Business Watch connects businesses and local government elected officials, leaders and management.

This unique network provides a venue to share knowledge necessary to both government and businesses. Florida Business Watch participation in government partners' educational events, training and professional development opens dialog to work toward common goals.

Together, Florida Business Watch government and corporate members are a powerful coalition to better Florida's economy, influence public policy and strengthen our communities.
 
August 24 - New Fall Events
We have added four FCCMA events in the fall. Learn more.

August 18 - City Catalyst Grants Awarded

During the League of Mayors Business Meeting we were happy to announce this year's Grant winners. There were a number of great applications to choose from. Our Mayors are working hard to build community and enhance the lives of their citizens.
We're so pleased to announce the 2016 winners:
- City of DeLand, Trips for Kids: Bicycle Safety
- City of Hampton, City Cemetery Protection
- City of South Bay, Youth Intervention Program
- Town of Zolfo Springs, Mentoring Pavilion
We look forward to sharing their stories as the programs are rolled out. Check back for updates!

July 18 - New August Events
On August 17, FBW members have the opportunity to attend a full day of training with local government professionals and elected officials in Hollywood Florida. The cost to attend is $500 (credits can be applied). Learn more.

June 6 - Public Records Update
State law now requires that open records requests must be made through the government agency, never directly to the contractor. Unfortunately, many government agencies are unaware of this change. The way the law is designed, if the government entity does not have all records, they can ask their contractors and have the contractors supply the information to the government.

If someone other than a government customer contacts your company asking for public records, please direct them to contact the government records custodian to receive the information they are asking for. If your government customer asks you to supply public records, please only give them to the government entity. See this clarifying letter from one of the sponsors, Senator Simpson.
 
May 16 - Grants Available
Following last year's inaugural success, in partnership with the League of Mayors, FBW is proud to offer the City Catalyst Grants Program. Multiple grants will be awarded to support projects that help build community or enhance the lives of citizens.

The application is a simple one-page document. Applications are due June 17 and the grants will be awarded at the Florida League of Cities Conference this August.

March 9 - We Did It!
Contractor Public Records Bill Signed into Law

The Governor signed our public records legislation yesterday, protecting government contractors from bad actors that have been preying on our businesses. Starting today, all records requests must be made through the government entity and contractors have an 8-day remedy period before becoming liable for legal fees. Read the new law.

Florida Business Watch would like to thank all our members who worked so hard to pass this important legislation and remind you that there is still much work to be done. Local governments and Florida taxpayers deserve the same protections now afforded to contractors and we will keep working until we achieve that goal.

Florida Business Watch supports Public Records reform because bad actors are negatively impacting our communities and taxpayers. Requests designed to force violations and create lawsuit filings (which come with a settlement offer) increase the cost of delivering services and do nothing to increase transparency.

CS/CS/CS/SB 1220 would provide protection to governments and unanimously passed the Senate but is unlikely to get a floor reading in the House this year. We'll keep working.

January 29 - Media Advisory
Florida Business Watch Endorses TaxWatch Report on Predatory Public Records Requests


In the January 2016 report, Florida TaxWatch enumerates the huge cost of Predatory Public Records Requests. Example after example is cited of how bad actors are abusing the public records law for their own gain.

These bad actors make it more expensive for governments to deliver services and the Florida Legislature should enact common sense measures to curb abuse of the open records law.

"Open record abuse is costing Florida's taxpayers dearly," said FBW President Beth Rawlins. "The examples cited in the TaxWatch report are just the tip of the iceberg. Current law allows abusers to legally steal money from public coffers, disrupt good governance and drive up the cost of government contracting."

The businesses of Florida Business Watch join TaxWatch in calling on the legislature to amend the Public Records Act to prevent this fraud.

"Nothing in the TaxWatch recommendations inhibits access to public records. The people's business is, and should be, open and transparent. These suggested fixes simply install barriers to abuse of the open records law for personal gain," said FBW Board member Paul Adams, Vice President of Woodard & Curran.
 
January 21
SB 390/HB 273 passed its last two committees this week.

The work is not done yet, it still needs to pass a floor vote in both houses and be signed by the Governor, but we are on the way!

FBW will be in Tallahassee February 2 & 3 will 100 + local elected officials. Learn more and join us as we continue to work on the Contractor Public Records Bill.

January 11

FBW's Public Records Protection for Contractors Bill is almost through the committee process.

Under current law, government contractors are legally responsible for responding to a public records request made to any employee from anyone, correctly. That includes redacting any non-public information (but only non-public information) and protecting the anonymity of the requester while responding quickly.

SB 390 (Simpson) and HB 273 (Beshears) will protect businesses by requiring that public records requests be made through the government agency.

The bill's last committee hearings are in the House's State Affairs and Senate's Fiscal Policy Committees the week of January 19. Contact those senators and representatives and express your support.

December 2
SB 390 and HB 273 passed both committee meetings this week. Join Florida Local Government Coalition members December 8 near Orlando to learn more about Public Records and how to stay compliant. Learn more and register to attend.

November 30 - Open Records Bill in Two Committees - Call Now
SB 390 passed it's first committee unanimously. The bill will be heard in the:
Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, December 1 at 4 p.m. in the Toni Jennings Committee Room &
House Government Operations Subcommittee on Wednesday, December 2 at 9 a.m. in Webster Hall

Please contact these Senators expressing your support for SB 390.

Chair Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, 850-487-5040
Vice Chair Jeremy Ring, 850-457-5029
Sen. Aaron Bean, 850-487-5044
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, 850-487-5030
Sen. Jeff Brandes, 850-487-5022
Sen. Arthenia L. Joyner, 850-487-5019
Sen. David Simmons, 850-487-5010
Sen. Wilton Simpson, 850-487-5018
Sen. Darren Soto, 850-487-5014
Sen. Kelli Stargel, 850-487-5015

Please contact these Representatives and tell them you support HB 273 (SB 390 companion).

Chair Micheal Bileca, 850-717-5115
Vice Chair David Santiago, 850-717-5027
Rep. Edwin Narain, 850-717-5061
Rep. John Cortes, 850-717-5043
Rep. Jay Fant, 850-717-5015
Rep. James Grant, 850-717-5064
Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, 850-717-5035
Rep. Marlene O'Toole, 850-717-5033
Rep. Kevin Rader, 850-717-5081
Rep. Kenneth Roberson, 850-717-5075
Rep. Jimmie Smith, 850-717-5034
Rep. Dwayne Taylor, 850-717-5026
Rep. Jay Trumbull, 850-717-5006

November 16 - Open Records Bill in Committee - Act Now
SB 390 will protect government contractors by requiring that public records requests be made through the government agency. The bill will be heard in the Senate's Government Oversight & Accountability Committee this Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.

Please contact these Senators and EXPRESS YOUR SUPPORT FOR SB 390 TODAY!
Chair Jeremy Ring, 850-487-5029
Vice Chair Alan Hays, 850-487-5011
Sen. Dwight Bullard, 850-487-5039
Sen. Jack Latvala, 850-487-5020
Sen. John Legg, 850-487-5017

If possible, send a person to testify before the committee.


October 7
FBW helped two community gardens through City Catalyst Grants. The Clearwater Community Gardens project is opening raised beds this fall in a blighted area, allowing the community to harvest fruits and vegetables year-round and grow their community spirit.

The City of Destin is expanding their summer camp garden to their after school program. Plans include pumpkins and Mother's Day flowers with corresponding lessons.  "Getting down to nature: Destin gets grant for kids to plant", Destin Log.

Howard Warshauer, Chair, Clearwater Community Gardens; Alice Jarvis, President, Clearwater Garden Club; John Thomas, Exec. Dir., Fl. League of Mayors; Beth Rawlins, Pres., FBW; Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos; Mark Ogles and Gregg Eaton, FBW members.

The first raised beds installed! See the progress and learn more.
Photo from Clearwater Community Garden page.

Mark Ogles and Robert Sheets, FBW members; Destin Mayor Mel Ponder and John Thomas, Exec. Dir. of Fl. League of Mayors.
October 1
Local Works Day - Florida Business Watch supports local government in letter to the editor in Pensacola News Journal
Also, please view the new video created by the Florida Local Government Coalition

Open Records Bill for Government Contractors Filed
Senator Simpson and Representative Beshears have filed SB 390 to protect government contractors from open record scams. It provides that all public records requests be made through the government entity, never directly to the contractor, and also requires an 8-day notification period before filing suit.

These are important protections our companies and communities need. This will save taxpayers money by reducing the risk for companies to work for local governments while preserving citizens right to timely information with uniform requests that are easier to execute.  Read the press release on the bill.
 
September 21
Three new training opportunities scheduled for October and details now available for the FCCMA Winter Symposium Nov. 5. Learn more and register.
 
The second City Catalyst Grant Presentation was made to the City of Springfield. During summer break, the Library offers educational and entertaining programs to encourage children to retain and enhance their reading skills. The grant will allow Springfield's Summer Reading Program to get additional resources.

Robert Sheets, CEO of Government Services Group and FBW member; John Thomas, Executive Director of Florida League of Mayors; Frances Wittkopf, Springfield Librarian; and Springfield Mayor Ralph Hammond at the check presentation.
September 10

 
Our first formal presentation of a League of Mayors/Florida Business Watch City Catalyst Grant was at Holly Hill this week. Holly Hill, with the assistance of citizens and the Council on Aging, are creating a lending library because the nearest county library is over 10 miles away. The grant money will be used to purchase book cases for the books they have already received.

Left: FBW President Rawlins, Holly Hill Mayor John Penny and League of Mayors Executive Director John Thomas
Above: Holly Hill Commission
 
August 21

FBW was proud to award the first League of Mayors/Florida Business Watch City Catalyst Grant Awards at the League of Cities Conference last week. The winners are:

 - City of Clearwater Community Garden
 - City of Destin Community Children's Garden
 - City of Hampton Playground Equipment
 - City of Holly Hill Community Center Lending Library
 - City of Springfield Summer Reading Program

While, at the Conference, FBW also conducted a corporate educational session on Florida Open Records law. Learn more.

Holly Hill Mayor John Penny receiving award with FBW members and League of Mayors President Sam Ferreri
 
July 28 - Great August Events
August 12-14 , FBW members have a few great training opportunities in Orlando.
  • 8:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Center for Municipal Research Symposium Planes, Trains, Ports and Highways
  • 2 p.m. - 7 p.m. League of Mayors Roundtable and Reception Leading and implementing change at the local level
August 14, 11:00 a.m. to noon, FBW session Keeping your company compliant with Florida Public Records Laws

August 20, in Tampa, 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Florida Local Government Coalition
Regional event, with keynote by Jeff Vinick, owner of the Lightning.


Learn more and register.

July 8

There are unscrupulous actors forcing lawsuits against governments and businesses for non-compliance with Florida Public Records laws. Yesterday Mike Brassfield of the Tampa Bay Times reported further on this issue.

"It starts with a demand that a low-level city employee produce a public record on the spot. Or with an email to a private company demanding invoices relating to a public agency. Often, it ends with a lawsuit."

This is an issue impacting governments and government contractors. Florida Business Watch is committed to and actively working on changing this law. While we fully support open public records, we also support reasonable reform that protects everyone from lawsuit scams.



June 29 - Working with Government

Earlier this month CFO Insights published Working with government - at every level. While focused on the need for companies to work with government it drew attention to the fact that those interactions are anything but routine. In particular:

"Working with government has plenty of nuances...whether at the local, state or federal level, there are four major themes that underlie such interactions. Specifically: Relationships count, Make contact before you need to, Understand how you are perceived, and Accept government's abilities and constraints."

FBW is proud to help companies work with governments in Florida through education, advocacy, neutrality and relationship building.

June 4 - Public Records for Contractors

Last week at the FCCMA Conference, FBW asked City Clerks Patricia J. Burke, MPA, MMC Town of Palm Shores and Julie Hennessy, MMC City of DeLand to present a session on Florida Public Records laws and how they apply to government contractors.

We are proud to provide you with copies of their presentations below. Some attendees requested a "Do's and Don't's" as well. We will post that here shortly. 

Public Records and Contractor Responsibilities
Florida's Public Record Act

June 1 - City Catalyst Grants Available

Florida Business Watch and the Florida League of Mayors have teamed up to create a new grants program available to cities across Florida. The purpose of the grant program is to help supplement the cost associated with a public project or initiative that helps build community and/or enhance the lives of its citizens. Applications must come from Florida League of Mayors members and FBW representatives will serve as judges and award the winners.

Applications are due by June 26 and winners will be announced at the FLC conference on August 13.
 

March 16 - Public Records bill in House Subcommittee

Man on 'public records' mission
"At the Sarasota office of Boro Building and Property Maintenance, a polite but persistent man with a video camera asks to see the company's contract to provide janitorial services to a state agency. .... The lawsuit Chandler later filed against Boro Building and Property Maintenance was one of more than 200 the Lakeland resident has filed in the past seven years over alleged public records law violations by companies and government agencies."  - South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 15, 2015, David Fleshler

RICO suit alleges conspiracy, extortion
"Contractors doing business with local governments were hit with public records requests. In April 2014, the Wantman Group, a West Palm Beach engineering company, received an email from 'An Onomy' seeking insurance documents for work with the South Florida Management District. Three weeks later, according to a complaint, the O'Boyle Law Firm sued Wantman on behalf of CAFI, demanding attorney's fees and costs totaling $3,923." 
- The Coastal Star, March 2015, Dan Moffett

Under current Florida law, the contractors in these stories could be any business that provides services to government agencies in Florida.
At the moment anyone can go to a business requesting public records. Businesses are responsible for handling that request properly and quickly, while protecting the anonymity of the requester, proprietary business information as well as any required redacting (like social security numbers).

A bill is making its way through the Legislature that will protect government contractors from open records lawsuits by 1) requiring all records requests be made through the government agency and 2) providing for a 5-day "notice and remedy" period before filing suit if they are asking for attorney fees.

That bill is being heard in the House Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee March 17 at 12:30. It is important to contact these representatives and tell them you support Senator Simpson's CS/SB 224. Ask that the committee adopt the Senate version of HB 163.


Florida Business Watch is committed to preserving the public's right to know while protecting government contractors. This bill helps us do that.


March 11 - Update on Public Records

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Senator Simpson's committee substitute for SB 224. This bill protects government contractors from open records lawsuits by requiring that all public records requests be made through the government agency, rather than directly to a company. It also provides for a 5 day "notice and remedy" period before filing suit, if the requester is asking for attorney fees.

February 24 - Join us in Tallahassee - March 17 & 18

Legislative Action Days combines the League of Cities Legislative events with a League of Mayors Roundtable. It's a great opportunity to network and train alongside city decision-makers. It's also a great opportunity to protect your business from open records scams hitting government contractors around Florida.
(Daily Business Review, Feb. 18, 2015)

We have important legislation in SB 224 and HB 163 that will protect government contractors, but the legislation can be even stronger. It's up to us to make the case. 


February 5 - Update on Public Records
CS/SB 224, was approved by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee 5-0.

See a new article from The Florida Bar News, A new scam: Public records shakedown FBW will continue to work on this important legislation and keep you apprised. We will be joining the Florida League of Cities for their Legislative Action Days, March 17 & 18.


January 27 - Action Alert

On Tuesday, February 3, the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee will review SB 224: Public Records/Public Agency Contracts. Please contact the senators and tell them that you support the bill.

This bill will protect businesses that work with local governments from harassing lawsuits and allow local governments to establish a custodian of the record.


Chair, Senator Jeremy Ring, (850) 487-5029
Vice-Chair, Senator Alan Hays, (850) 487-5011
Senator Dwight Bullard, (850) 487-5039
Senator Jack Latvala, (850) 457-5020
Senator John Legg, (850) 487-5017

It is important this bill get out of committee. Tell them you support SB 244.

 

January 5, 2015 - Bill filed to protect contractors

Senator Wilton Simpson, District 18 - Press Release

SIMPSON & BESHEARS FILE LEGISLATION TO STOP
PUBLIC RECORDS SCAM

Tallahassee, Fla. -

Today, Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) and Representative Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello) filed Senate Bill 224 and House Bill 163. This legislation will put an end to the harassment of business owners who contract with state and local governments.

"Many Florida business owners contract with and perform services for public agencies," said Senator Simpson. "Over the summer, I learned that across Florida, individuals are approaching some of these businesses to make public records requests for only one purpose: creating confusion for the business owners that leads to frivolous lawsuits to obtain cash settlements," said Senator Simpson. "The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) uncovered details about these cases that are deeply troubling. I am an unwavering supporter of comprehensive public access laws so citizens can hold their government accountable. In these cases though, it is clear that the rights of private citizens and hardworking business owners are being trampled by some unscrupulous people bent on getting rich off a new scam."

"In each case that I've reviewed, government agencies have the records that are being requested," said Rep. Beshears. "Instead of simply asking the records custodian at the state agency, spam-like emails are sent or even worse, intimidating individuals wearing cameras go onto private property and make demands of office staff that have had no training in our public records laws. This isn't right and we've got to put an end to it."

"Such abuses have cost businesses and taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars; money that should have been spent providing services to citizens," said Beth Rawlins, President of Florida Business Watch, a non-profit trade association for government contractors. "This bill protects the citizen's right to know, while also protecting contractors from bad actors scamming the system to line their own pockets."

Read the filed bill.

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