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Records exemption approved for murder witnesses

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With supporters saying the change will help police solve crimes, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed a bill that will keep confidential the identities of murder witnesses for two years after the crimes occur.

The bill (HB 111), which overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate, will create a public-records exemption for identifying information about murder witnesses.

During legislative debate, supporters of the bill said many witnesses fear retaliation for cooperating with police.

Lawmakers said the records exemption would make witnesses more willing to provide information about murders.

But the First Amendment Foundation asked Scott last week to veto the bill, saying “it offends our constitutional right of access to government information and is antithetical to our criminal justice system and rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.”

Among other bills signed Tuesday by Scott was a measure (HB 305) that will allow law-enforcement officers to review footage from their body cameras before filling out reports.

Another bill (HB 151) signed by Scott will allow the use of "therapy" and "facility" dogs in courts to help provide support for children who testify in cases involving child abuse, abandonment or neglect.

“This legislation will help children and individuals with unique abilities in our state as they face some of the most challenging times in their life,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

“I cannot imagine the emotional toll these terrible circumstances place on our state's most vulnerable populations. The comfort and support provided by therapy animals can make a profound difference in someone's life, and I'm proud to sign HB 151 today.”