Lawmakers say legislation will protect online bill paying - FOX 13 News

Lawmakers say legislation will protect online bill paying

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

Pinellas County TaxCollector Diane Nelson thinks she has an inside track on getting a newexemption to Florida's public records law. 

Nelson told FOX 13 shepersonally explained her concerns about having to disclose personal e-mail addressesused to deliver property tax bills.

"I could seesomeone - perhaps in the month of October - creating a fake website and sendingfake tax bills," Nelson said. "In speaking to the governor, when Iexplained that to him, he said to me, 'Diane that is consumer fraud and I willsupport it.'" 

Nelson said thatconversation occurred before State Rep. Ed Hooper and State Sen. Jack Latvalaagreed to sponsor the required legislation.

Gov. Rick Scott'sapproval would be a reversal from last year, when he vetoed similar legislationthat would have shielded email addresses collected by Supervisors of Electionsoffices across the state. 

Richard Harrison, anadjunct professor of local government law at Stetson University College of Law,pointed to the similarities.

"We need to thinkabout whether this piecemeal approach makes sense," Harrison said."If my email address ought to be protected, then it seems like it ought tobe protected in the hands of any agency - not just the tax collector."

Hooper told FOX 13 thebill has not yet been scheduled to be considered by any legislativecommittee.  Hooper did not know whetherit could be expanded, pointing out public records law exemptions require 60percent approval by both the House and the Senate, and the First AmendmentFoundation has already written a letter opposing the email address shield.

Nelson noted theinteresting course the issue has taken. Until several years ago, Florida prohibited electronic tax bills.  She advocated for that change to reducecosts, and 2012 property tax statements included an offer to email the documentin 2013. 

"We did have apublic request asking me for all the e-mail addresses I had gathered,"Nelson said. "I stopped (the program) immediately at that point."

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