The Florida Legislature enacted laws affecting local governments during the 2016 Session. One of them relates to public records requests to local government contractors. Local government and business law attorneys should ensure their clients follow these new statutory requirements.
Chapter 2016-20, Laws of Florida, amends Section 119.0701, Fla. Stat., by requiring public records requests related to contract for services with a public agency to be made directly to the public agency instead of the contractor. If the public agency does not possess the records, it must immediately notify the contractor of the request. The contractor must then provide the records to the public agency or allow the records to be inspected or copied within a reasonable time. A contractor who fails to provide the requested information within a reasonable time may be subject to penalties under Section 119.10, Fla. Stat.
Pursuant to the new law, a public agency must include a statement in contracts for services informing the contractor of the contact information of the public agency’s record custodian. The statement must also instruct the contractor to contact the record custodian with any questions regarding the contractor’s duty to provide public records. The following language, in at least 14-point boldfaced type, should be included in contracts for services entered into or amended on or after July 1, 2016:
“IF THE CONTRACTOR HAS QUESTIONS REGARDING THE APPLICATION OF CHAPTER 119, FLORIDA STATUTES, TO THE CONTRACTOR’S DUTY TO PROVIDE PUBLIC RECORDS RELATING TO THIS CONTRACT, CONTACT THE CUSTODIAN OF PUBLIC RECORDS AT … (telephone number, e-mail address, and mailing address).”
Contracts for services must also address whether the contractor will retain the public records or transfer them to the public agency after the completion of the contract. If the contractor keeps the public records, it must follow all requirements for retaining such records, including nondisclosure of confidential or exempt records.
This is one thing they don’t teach you in law school (or paralegal school for that matter) even though it’s often part of your daily tasks. You learn how to find public records on the job, often at your client’s expense. The good thing is, it’s a lot easier and quicker to perform public records searches now than 10 years ago. You don’t have to go on a special trip to your local courthouse or send your request by snail mail. Most public records are now a click away. Below are some of my favorite local and statewide websites for free public records searches.
Clerk of Court
Your local clerk of court website offers a wide range of records. Court records generally include civil, criminal and traffic court matters. You can also find records related to real property transactions, liens, plats, marriage, divorce and death.
The property appraiser website is the best place to look for real property information. For each real property, it lists the parcel control number, current and past owners, recent transactions, appraisals, structure details, a map and basic tax information.
The tax collector website provides tax information related to real property, tangible property and businesses. This is where you can find if someone’s taxes are due!
Division of Corporations of the Department of State
In Florida, the website is called Sunbiz. This is where you can find corporate records and filings. You can locate a company’s filing date, status, address, registered agent and members. You can also perform a business name search to see if the name is already used.
Still can’t find what you are looking for? Don’t forget to look at federal websites such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for public companies information and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for patent and trademark searches.
Now it’s your turn. Which free public records website do you use on a regular basis?
Disclaimer: The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Your Paralegal Help Desk's blogger is not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should immediately seek the advice of a licensed attorney in your state.