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Information about murder witnesses could be shielded

With the sponsor saying she wants to bring "perpetrators to justice," the House on Thursday passed a bill that would prevent the release of records that would identify witnesses in murder cases.

House members voted 113-3 to approve the bill (HB 111), which would keep identifying information about witnesses confidential for two years after murders.

Sponsor Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, said many murder cases are unresolved because witnesses do not come forward out of fear of retaliation.

"Witness intimidation is real, and so is retaliation," Stafford said. Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, said he recognizes the "laudable purpose" of the bill.

But he pointed to opposition from the First Amendment Foundation open-government group.

"We always have to be vigilant when it comes to public records, and there might be other approaches that would be satisfactory," he said.

Geller, Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, and Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, voted against the bill.

A Senate version (SB 550) has cleared three committees.