Pinellas County Tax Collector Diane Nelson thinks she has an inside track on getting a new exemption to Florida's public records law.
Nelson told FOX 13 she personally explained her concerns about having to disclose personal e-mail addresses used to deliver property tax bills.
"I could see someone - perhaps in the month of October - creating a fake website and sending fake tax bills," Nelson said. "In speaking to the governor, when I explained that to him, he said to me, 'Diane that is consumer fraud and I will support it.'"
Nelson said that conversation occurred before State Rep. Ed Hooper and State Sen. Jack Latvala agreed to sponsor the required legislation.
Gov. Rick Scott's approval would be a reversal from last year, when he vetoed similar legislation that would have shielded email addresses collected by Supervisors of Elections offices across the state.
Richard Harrison, an adjunct professor of local government law at Stetson University College of Law, pointed to the similarities.
"We need to think about whether this piecemeal approach makes sense," Harrison said. "If my email address ought to be protected, then it seems like it ought to be protected in the hands of any agency - not just the tax collector."
Hooper told FOX 13 the bill has not yet been scheduled to be considered by any legislative committee. Hooper did not know whether it could be expanded, pointing out public records law exemptions require 60 percent approval by both the House and the Senate, and the First Amendment Foundation has already written a letter opposing the email address shield.
Nelson noted the interesting course the issue has taken. Until several years ago, Florida prohibited electronic tax bills. She advocated for that change to reduce costs, and 2012 property tax statements included an offer to email the document in 2013.
"We did have a public request asking me for all the e-mail addresses I had gathered," Nelson said. "I stopped (the program) immediately at that point."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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