TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A bill hiding the identities of presidential search candidates for public colleges and universities in Florida was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday with no fanfare or announcement until after it was complete.
The law was passed by the legislature on March 4 and scheduled to go into effect immediately upon becoming law. It allows candidates in the final stage of presidential searches to remain protected from public records requests, and outside the purview of state Sunshine Laws or transparency rules.
According to Senate Bill 520, “any personal identifying information of an applicant for president of a state university or a Florida College System institution” will be “confidential and exempt” from state transparency laws until the “date the final group of applicants to be considered for president is established” or three weeks before a meeting where they’ll be interviewed for a final selection.
Since the end of Florida’s legislative session on March 14, DeSantis has already signed one major education bill into law, focused on transitioning the state away from the Florida Standards Assessment testing and into progress monitoring instead.
While he held a bill-signing ceremony in St. Petersburg for the progress monitoring law, SB 1048, other than an announcement that it was signed, no other news on SB 520 came from the governor’s office. At the governor’s latest public appearance, in Hialeah on Wednesday to announce almost $300 million in new education funding, the new law on presidential searches was not mentioned, despite DeSantis reiterating support for the newly-signed testing changes.
Under the bill-now-law, the legislation is designed to protect identifying information of the candidates for university or college presidents. The now-protected information includes candidates’ ages, races, genders, and qualifying information for the position.
Additionally, meetings with applicants or candidates must be held privately, though a recording of those meetings is required by law to be made. Additionally, the meetings may not be held off the record. Instead, the Florida Legislature says that, explicitly, “it is a public necessity that any personal identifying information of an applicant for president of a state university or Florida College System institution…be made confidential and exempt” from transparency statutes.
The public necessity of privacy for those who may end up leading a taxpayer-funded educational institution also extends to identifying information or vetting applicants, as well as discussions and negotiations for compensation of the finalists.
Part of the rationale for the state-protected lack of disclosure is to prevent jeopardizing a candidate’s current employment due to their application for another job. The law, as written, notes that most if not all applicants for executive education positions are “currently employed at another job” when they apply, and public knowledge of their application “could jeopardize their current positions if it were to become known that they were seeking employment elsewhere.”
Now signed into law, the legislation is immediately in effect, as required by the text of the bill.
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