Bill shielding suicide media, autopsy reports from public records request advances

Losing a loved one to suicide is heart-wrenching. It’s made even worse when materials depicting a person’s final, anguishing act are spread online for millions to view and share.

A bill (SB 474) advancing in the Legislature aims to change that by making photos, videos and audio recordings of people taking their own lives exempt from general public records requests.

It would do the same for their autopsy reports.

The bill’s sponsor, Vero Beach Republican Sen. Erin Grall cried while explaining the measure to members of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.

“I think we’ve all been touched by suicide, some of us more recently than others,” she said. “Sometimes when we’re touched by certain things, that causes us to look at the law … in a way that (is) different, and that’s what happened here. It really made me ask the question, ‘Why? … What is the public purpose of these types of videos and photos being made available in what can be very difficult times for families and communities?’

“In working on this bill, I have found that I’m not alone and so many more people than we all realize have been touched by suicide, and their lives have been shaped by the outcomes of that. And I think we should do everything we can to limit what can be the contagion of suicide when … these types of images are shared and glamorized or offered as an option. I think it’s our responsibility to limit the tragedy that suicide is.”

Florida today has similar restrictions for media depicting killings of police officers, minors and victims of mass violence. As is the case for those incidents, Grall’s bill includes exceptions for surviving spouses of suicide victims, their parents, adult children and siblings.

A court may also authorize anyone to view or copy photos, videos, audio recordings or autopsy reports of suicides if it determines the public’s need to evaluate government performance outweighs a family’s right to privacy.

The bill and a substantively identical companion (HB 529) would go into effect upon receiving the Governor’s signature and apply retroactively. Unless lawmakers pass an extension, it would be automatically repealed on Oct. 2, 2029.

Grall did not detail the impetus for her measure. She indicated she had requested before the Tuesday meeting not to be questioned about the bill, which the committee approved unanimously.

In late 2016, her husband’s firefighter cousin, David Dangerfield, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound shortly after posting a message to Facebook about post-traumatic stress disorder.

Less than two years later, Grall delivered a tearful speech about Dangerfield’s death on the House floor during discussion of a bill to expand workers’ compensation benefits for traumatized first responders.

Then-Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. Senator, signed the measure three weeks later.

SB 474 has two more committee stops before reaching a floor vote. HB 529 awaits a hearing before the first of three committees to which House Speaker Paul Renner referred it last month.

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

© Copyright by Extensive-Enterprises 2024. All rights reserved. Staff Login