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Fleming Island rep wants to shield prospective university presidents

The Florida Capitol Complex in Tallahassee.

A state legislator from Fleming Island has filed a bill to shield the names of applicants to become presidents of state universities and colleges.

The bill from Republican Rep. Sam Garrison would provide a public-records exemption for information about applicants. It sets the stage for a renewed debate during the 2022 legislative session.

The bill (HB 703) is identical to a measure (SB 520), filed last month by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. A version of the bill passed the House during the 2021 session but fell one vote short of passing in the Senate. Public-records exemptions need the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate, and the measure died in the Senate on a 25-14 vote.

Supporters of such an exemption have long argued that disclosing “personal identifying information” about applicants to become university and college presidents could drive away good candidates. But opponents have argued that the proposal would conflict with the state’s longstanding open-government laws and would prevent the release of potentially important information about qualified candidates who applied for positions but were not chosen.

Under the bills, identifying information about finalists would be disclosed. The 2022 session will start Jan. 11.