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$125-per-Plate First Amendment Foundation Luncheon Attracts a Who's Who

The Florida First Amendment Foundation luncheon today attracted a healthy turnout of political leaders and journalists. Notably absent: Gov. Charlie Crist, who is a two-time winner of the foundation's Pete Weitzel Friend of the First Amendment Award, and Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Keynote speakers were Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and CFO Alex Sink, a Democrat, both of whom are candidates for governor. Most members of the House and Senate leadership were in attendance.

Sink said she entered government with "a citizen's mentality" because she'd never held elected office before. She talked about the importance of open government from a citizen's perspective. And, in answer to a question from the audience, she expressed support for the idea of requiring the state's open meeting act to be applied to state lawmakers, who at present are allowed to meet in private to discuss government business. In contrast, the state's open meetings act prohibits two or more local government officials from meeting in private on publc business.

Dockery talked about bills she is currently sponsoring in the Senate to promote open government, including one that would force a legislator to recuse himself from lobbying and voting on a bill if the lawmaker or a familiy member would somehow benefit.

The luncheon also quietly drew attention to changes in the news industry. Staff cutbacks and downsizing of state newspaper bureaus has caused a corresponding drop in financial support for the foundation, which is largely a stepchild of Florida newspapers.

On the upside, there has been an expansion of online journalism.

"More people are getting access to the news through the Internet," said Barbara Petersen, president of the foundation. "They're being exposed to a variety of different outlets."

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