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LETTER TO BARBARA PETERSON,  PRESIDENT OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT FOUNDATION

September 26, 2001
Source: Representative Tom Feeney, Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives

Regarding 9/25/01 Tampa Tribune Article on State Security Panels in the Legislature

Ms. Barbara Peterson, President
First Amendment Foundation
336 East College Avenue
Suite 300
Tallahassee, Florida 32301

Dear Ms. Peterson:

While I do not always give credence to statements in newspapers, I was dismayed to read in the Tampa Tribune that you have opined that there is no provision in the Florida Constitution, which would permit a closed meeting of a legislative committee. I can only assume that your statements were misinterpreted, or that you inadvertently failed to read the entire provisions of Article III, Section 4(e) of the Florida Constitution. To quote that provision, “the rules of each house … may, where reasonably necessary for security purposes or to protect a witness appearing before a committee, provide for the closure of committee meetings.” The provision further provides, in the next session, that “each house shall be the sole judge of the interpretation, implementation, and enforcement of this section.”

It clearly takes no mangled interpretation of the provisions of Article III, Section 4, to understand that the constitution specifically authorizes the closure of legislative committee meetings when the committee is hearing testimony on confidential security matters to be closed. The drafters of Florida’s Constitution wisely and clearly anticipated the potential, but limited, need for private meetings to protect security. While I remain a strong advocate for openness in the legislative process, should the protection of the security of the citizens of this state reasonably necessitate the holding of a closed meeting, I will not hesitate to take the necessary steps to authorize such a meeting.

Sincerely,

(Signature on Original)

Tom Feeney

Florida House Speaker