A Tampa-based lawmaker named Ed Narain is spearheading a bill intended to protect the identity of a witness to a felony from being disclosed publicly. Known as House Bill 475 (HB 475), it was submitted in October and is currently being reviewed by a Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Should the legislation pass, it will affect Florida’s existing public records law of witnesses by creating an exemption that prohibits disclosing any personally identifying information. This exemption would last until a prosecution has concluded or the crime’s statute of limitations has been reached, whichever happens first.
Per Mr. Narain, revealing the name of a witness “could have undesirable chilling effect on witnesses stepping forward and providing their accounts of felonies.” It is not uncommon for an alleged criminal to retaliate against a witness if the individual chooses to talk with an investigator, and such a culture discourages witnesses from revealing potentially critical information that could significantly affect a criminal case.
HB 475 is one of the latest exemptions to Florida’s open meetings and public records statutes, otherwise known as the Sunshine Laws. Starting off with 250 in the 1980s, it has since increased to more than 1,000 exemptions as of 2014.
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