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Senate backs public records fee measure

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With sponsor Greg Steube saying it will "curb a lot of the bad actors," the Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill aimed at resolving a long-running debate about awarding attorney fees in public-records lawsuits.

Local governments argue that the state's public-records law is being abused by people who submit large numbers of public-records requests as a strategy to file lawsuits and receive attorney fees or settlements.

Under state law, judges are required to award attorney fees to people who successfully file lawsuits against government agencies that improperly withhold records.

Steube, R-Sarasota, initially proposed giving discretion to judges about awarding attorney fees, but the idea drew objections from open-government advocates.

The bill approved Wednesday by the Senate is an attempted compromise. It would keep in place the requirement that agencies pay attorney fees if they improperly withhold records.

But it also includes changes, such as requiring that notice be given at least five days before lawsuits are filed --- a move that could help agencies avoid potential litigation.