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Financial Information of Florida Contractors – A Trade Secret?

Commentary Federal Circuit Comment First Amendment

SB 180, SB 182

Text and history of SB 180

Text and history of SB 182

On February 24, 2016, the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, signed Senate Bill 180, Trade Secrets, and Senate Bill 182, Public Records and Meetings/Trade Secrets, into Florida law. This legislation includes financial information under the umbrella of protected trade secrets.  The bills exempt financial information from Florida’s sunshine laws, which mandate public access to both government records and minutes of meetings. This legislation has been a longtime goal of P3s, private companies building public projects in exchange for the ability to collect revenue from them for a period of time. The bill was originally introduced by Republican Senator Garrett Richter.

When P3s are preparing bids for public projects they are required by the state to turn over significant amounts of financial information, both information about the company and projections of revenue captured from the public projects. These companies feared that this sensitive information could be put to use by competitors and have pushed for legislation to protecting them as they submit bids. These bills accomplish this task through adding financial information to the category of documents that are exempt from both Florida public records requests and disclosure due to open meetings laws.

A good summary of the bills is published by Nossaman LLP. Over at Law 360, there is a very interesting look at the responses to SB 180 and 182. Barbara Petersen, the president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, argues that citizens should have the right to view the financial information of these types of incentives. Worrying about the “unconstitutionally vague” language of the statute, she states that the bills are “near the top on the list of bills we hate.”