A proposed senate bill would carve out an exemption to public-records and open-meetings laws for Florida university foundations considering research proposals.
House Bill 115, which passed Thursday by a vote of 83-33, would allow foundation boards of universities to meet secretly if they are discussing research proposals or spending.
The bill comes months after the University of Florida announced UF Rising, a campaign to expand research initiatives and attain Top-Ten status amongst public research institutions.
Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda stands in opposition of the bill and said she is trying to retain transparency for the media.
“I just wanted to have that check and balance so the press could find out who was funding the research and generally what the research was,” she said.
Rehwinkel Vasilinda said the public needs to know who research is funded by so they can draw their own conclusions.
“People need to be able to see what’s being researched, what the outcome of that research is, so we can make our own determinations and we’re not kept in the dark about what our taxpayer-funded universities are doing,” she said.
However, supporters like Rep. Cary Pigman, the sponsor of the bill, said research proposals contain trade secrets and require secrecy in order to prevent their ideas from being stolen.
He said the bill exists in order to protect researchers, not keep people out.
“If we didn’t have the public meetings exemption, then the moment you showed up to talk about your new idea, it could be taken over by anyone,” Pigman said. “Typically, these devices at this point aren’t patented. They’re not complete.”
The bill, which would go into effect Oct. 1, requires a two-thirds vote to create exemptions to the public-records and open-meetings laws.
Alex Harris contributed to this report.