News Media Protest Florida Cabinet Meeting in Jerusalem

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Miami Herald and others sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his cabinet on Tuesday, claiming their planned meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday will violate the open-meetings provision of the state’s Sunshine Law.

The Tampa Bay Times, Gannett, and Gatehouse Media joined the Herald and the First Amendment Foundation in opposing the cabinet meeting planned for the U.S. Embassy in Israel. They claim the short notice and distance from Florida severely limits the public’s ability to attend.

The lawsuit in Leon County Court seeks an emergency injunction to stop the meeting, or alternatively, declare the meeting and any decisions made there unlawful.

Hours after receiving the lawsuit, Leon County Judge Angela Dempsey denied the request, because the defendants had not yet received notice. The media organizations’ attorney, Gregg Thomas of the Tampa law firm Thomas & Locicero, immediately asked the court to reconsider.

The Florida Cabinet consists of four of the top elected officials in state government: DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Nikki Fried, the agriculture commissioner and lone Democrat of the group.

The Florida delegation arrived in Israel on Sunday. DeSantis characterized the trip as a “business development mission” to “strengthen the economic, academic and cultural bonds between Florida and Israel.”

DeSantis frequently cited his support for Israel during his campaign last year and promised to be “the most pro-Israel governor in America.” With more than 629,000 Jews, Florida trails only California and New York in Jewish population.

As part of the trip, DeSantis announced a “ceremonial” cabinet meeting at the Embassy. But the lawsuit claims that any cabinet meeting should be govern bed by Florida’s open meeting laws.

The governor’s office could not be reached immediately for comment.

“The decision to challenge tomorrow’s meeting of the Florida Cabinet was not lightly made — it came after long deliberation and many discussions of both public policy and legal issues,” First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said in a statement. “Florida’s Constitution requires that meetings of the cabinet at which public business is to be transacted or discussed be open to the public.

“We wish the governor and his cabinet success on their trade mission,” she added. “But as our complaint makes clear, there are legitimate concerns regarding the constitutionality of holding a cabinet meeting that Floridians cannot attend.”

The meeting’s agenda includes “presentations” on water quality issues and emergency management. The cabinet will also consider a resolution on the “Israeli-Florida relationship.”

The plaintiffs say these agenda items could shape the governor’s policies dealing with the environment, cybersecurity and disaster response. Yet many Floridians would encounter significant barriers to attending the meeting, including a costly flight, the need for a valid passport, the secure nature of the U.S. Embassy and problems entering parts of Jerusalem for Floridians of Palestinian descent.

The meeting will be livestreamed by the Florida Channel, a government-access television network. The plaintiffs say that news organizations will not be allowed to bring such equipment into the meeting to conduct their own broadcast, which also violates the law.

Florida’s Sunshine Law is one of the strictest in the nation. The open-meeting provisions require that any meeting between two or more members of a board or commission, no matter how informal, be properly noticed and open to the public. It also requires meetings to be held in locations that do not “unreasonably restrict public access to such a facility.”

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