St. Johns State Rep. Seeks Records Exemption For Teen Information

Jan 17, 2019

Two Republican lawmakers this week have filed proposals that would shield from public disclosure information that 16-year-old and 17-year-old Floridians provide when they register to vote.

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, R-St. Augustine, and Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, filed the similar proposals (HB 281 and SB 342) for consideration during the legislative session that starts March 5.

Though they cannot vote until age 18, minors can pre-register to vote. The bills would provide a public-records exemption for information submitted by those minors, with Stevenson and Lee pointing to a need to protect privacy.

“In Florida we have a broad public records law and a significant amount of your personal information can be found there, including your address, your age, your birthdate, your email and phone number, if those are submitted,” Stevenson told WJCT. “In my office, I had significant complaints about that from parents whose children were getting solicited for credit cards and those types of things. Some that were concerned that the information would be used to stalk them.”

Stevenson proposed a broader public records bill last year, HB 761, which cleared one committee but never made it through judiciary. Stevenson said it was very similar to the legislation she filed this year, but the privacy protections would have applied to everyone, not just minors.

“I’ve heard that some people do not want to choose a party affiliation because they’re afraid that they will be discriminated against from one party or another. And I don’t think that’s right,” she said. “I believe it could be used for identity theft and different types of uses that aren’t all savory.”

She said without the protections she’s been advocating for in these bills, Floridians have to call their local Supervisor of Elections to have their information hidden from the public.

“I’m going to see if I can’t make some progress and work with the new Secretary of State on some ideas that are used in other states successfully to provide the kind of access that’s appropriate to the voter file, but that is not indiscriminate,” she said.

If HB 281 passes during the March Legislative Session, which she thinks it will, Stevenson said she plans to look into expanding those privacy protections to all Floridians.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.