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Democracy Fund Grant to Support Research on Increased Volume of Public Record Requests Under University of Florida Leadership

by | May 9, 2024

GAINESVILLE, FL. (May 9, 2024) — The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC)  and Democracy Fund today announced a $225,000 grant to support a multi-university research project that will aid government agencies in handling unduly burdensome public records requests without restricting the flow of civic information.

In recent years, some state and local government agencies have been deluged with more public records requests than they can respond to consistent with state sunshine laws, leading legislatures to pass harmful laws in some states that allow agencies to delay, charge extra fees, or even fine, sue and blackball citizens for asking for too much information. One such bill was considered this spring in Colorado.

“We want to find a common-sense approach so that agencies, particularly small ones with limited staff, can handle some of these unduly burdensome requests,” said David Cuillier, director of UFCJC’s Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Project, which will coordinate the project. “At the same time, we want to make sure these laws don’t block important records from citizens, journalists or civic activists that are critical for the public to understand what the government is up to.”

The Brechner FOI Project will team up with leading global scholars in freedom of information, including Suzanne Piotrowski, a public administration professor from Rutgers University, Ben Worthy, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of London, and Michele Kimball, a senior lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, who earned her doctorate from UFCJC while working for the Brechner FOI Project.

“We are excited to support this important research project,” said Lindsay Daniels, senior director of elections and voting at Democracy Fund. “Researching and proposing solutions to this issue will lead to a more transparent, resilient election system. The delays caused by overwhelmed agencies harm all requestors, and this project can help identify opportunities to balance  the burden on civil servants while still providing important information to the public.”  

The research team will first inventory current legal remedies now employed in the U.S. and other countries. Then, the researchers will survey and interview public officials and requesters to analyze what laws and administrative practices are most effective at mitigating damage to government agencies while still empowering journalists, citizens and businesses to acquire the information they need to inform the public, hold government accountable and support the information economy. The team also will partner with Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in surveying local election officials. Solutions will be disseminated this fall and through 2025 to policymakers, government agencies and freedom of information advocates.

“The appeal of this project is that we have an opportunity to work together—government agencies, journalists, activists and citizens—to remove barriers and give the people the information they need to aid in their self-government,” said Hub Brown, UFCJC dean.

About the Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Project

The non-partisan, nonprofit Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Project, founded in 1977, works to educate journalists, policymakers and the general public about the law of access today and how it should work tomorrow. The Project, based in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, is a source of research, expertise and advocacy about the law of gathering and disseminating news across all platforms and technologies.

About Democracy Fund

Democracy Fund is an independent and nonpartisan, private foundation that confronts deep-rooted challenges in American democracy while defending against new threats. Since 2014, Democracy Fund has made grants of more than $275 million in support of those working to strengthen democracy through the pursuit of a vibrant and diverse public square, free and fair elections, effective and accountable government, and a just and inclusive society.

Bulldog Reporter
Bulldog Reporter is a leader in media intelligence supplying news, analysis and high-level training content to public relations and corporate communications professionals with the mission of helping these practitioners achieve superior competitive performance.

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