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Federal court blocks Florida law requiring expanded financial disclosures from local officials

A federal judge has blocked a Florida law that required municipal elected officials to file more comprehensive financial disclosures, finding it likely violates the First Amendment. The City of Destin […]

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A federal judge has blocked a Florida law that required municipal elected officials to file more comprehensive financial disclosures, finding it likely violates the First Amendment. The City of Destin was among the municipalities that joined the lawsuit challenging the law.

  • U.S. District Judge Melissa Damian granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by a group of municipal elected officials, which grew to include over 170 plaintiffs, challenging Senate Bill 774. 

The law, which took effect January 1, mandated officials file a detailed “Form 6” disclosure by July 1 instead of the previously required “Form 1.”

SB 774 amended Florida Statutes sections 112.3144 and 112.3145, requiring mayors and other elected members of the governing bodies of municipalities to disclose their net worth, the value of household goods and personal effects, descriptions and amounts of assets and liabilities over $1,000, and every source of income over $1,000. 

  • In contrast, Form 1 only required disclosing major sources of income over $2,500, certain property holdings, and liabilities over $10,000.

Judge Damian ruled the officials showed a substantial likelihood of success on their claim that SB 774 impermissibly compels content-based speech. Applying “exacting scrutiny,” the court found Florida failed to demonstrate the law was substantially related to important government interests or that it considered less intrusive alternatives.

“A review of the record reflects that the State enacted SB 774 without giving serious consideration to whether the government interests at stake could be addressed through less burdensome alternative means,” Damian wrote in the 33-page order.

The injunction applies statewide, prohibiting Florida from enforcing SB 774 unless otherwise ordered.The lawsuit argues the expanded disclosures infringe on officials’ free speech rights.

Proponents of SB 774 argued it would increase transparency, but critics worried it could discourage candidates. According to the court order, approximately 125 municipal elected officials resigned between the law’s enactment and its effective date of January 1, 2024.

  • “As a small City whose Mayor and Councilmembers are not paid but instead conduct service out of a care and commitment to their community, we were pleased to learn of the injunction,” said Tamara Young, Public Information Manager for the City of Destin.

The City of Mary Esther had two resignations due to Form 6 requirements.

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