Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Charlotte Sun

Bill approved by House Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday

North Port Community News Editor

A bill to keep 911 audio recordings from being made public was approved 8-5 in the House Governmental Affairs Policy Committee Wednesday in Tallahassee.

The bill was introduced after John Hoblick, the CEO of the Florida Farm Bureau's 16-year-old son, was found dead on May 30. The teen allegedly died of an accidental overdose following a night of drinking games and experimenting with prescription drugs, according to investigative reports. The next day, a portion of the one-minute 911 call made by Hoblick's 20-year-old son was aired on DeLeon Springs, Fla., TV news.

Hoblick told Government Affairs Policy Committee House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, that hearing the 911 tape brings back painful memories. He asked Cretul to ban the release of 911 tapes to the public.

The bill would make transcripts of a 911 tapes available after 60 days and allows a judge to decide if a tape can be released "upon a showing of good cause."

Not everyone believes the bill is good for Floridians.

"Can I go to the House Speaker and ask for an exemption to the Florida Sunshine Law?" said Barbara Peterson, president of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee. The foundation is a nonprofit group that lobbies for open government. "I'm no one, so I wouldn't get preferential treatment. There is someone who is well-known -- Nathan Lee, who is lobbying for 911 standards, and he is against this bill. He too has been impacted by a family member's death, and he believes 911 calls should be transparent."

Lee, who could not attend Wednesday's hearing because he was receiving a national citizen advocacy award from the E911 Institute in Washington, D.C., wrote a letter to the committee.

"We believe 911 issues need more transparency and not less if we are everto learn from past mistakes," he wrote. "Five 911 calls were made the day my wife, Denise Amber Lee, was kidnapped from our home (in January 2008 in North Port) by a complete stranger. One was made by Denise herself when she dialed 911 with her killer's cell phone without his knowledge.

"During the recent murder trial, we had to listen to over six minutes of this painful call where she begged for her life, desperately pleading to come home to me and our two boys," he wrote. "I understand the pain and suffering of having to listen to tragic 911 calls. Another nine-minute 911 call was made that day from a bystander. She provided the exact location ... (but the call) was never dispatched."

The bill is on a fast track to the House floor.

Gov. Charlie Crist said he thinks the tapes ought to remain available but backers of the legislation say they're an invasion of privacy. Crist has indicated he would not sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.

The News Service of Florida and Associated Press contributed to this report.