Florida is known for a lot of things. Oranges, theme parks, alligators, head scratch inducing election results. If you’ve ever watched national news, or scrolled a twitter feed, you may know Florida’s proclivity for something else: stories of inexplicable weirdness. At times stranger than fiction, they often feature America’s biggest character of folklore since Paul Bunyan, the notorious “Florida Man.”
The Rise Of Florida Man
“ Florida man charged with assault with a deadly weapon after throwing alligator through Wendy’s drive-through window”
“Florida man stabs tourists despite having no arms”
“Florida man hides in swamp after high-speed police chase, gets stuck and licked by police dog”
“Florida man arrested at local park for “practicing karate” on swans”
“Florida man suspected of smelling woman’s feet at library leads police on scooter chase”
As you can see, “Florida Man” strikes often, and his antics are increasingly creative in their deviance. The stories may read like scenes from a Quentin Tarantino movie, but they’re anything but “pulp fiction.” The quotes above are real headlines from real Florida news outlets.
Obviously “Florida man…” is just the customary way a journalist starts a headline for an article detailing a man in Florida. Due to the nature of many of those stories however, “Florida” & “Man” were soon unified into the title shared by all of Florida’s ne-er-do-wells, especially those erratic, or original enough to make the news. Most Americans know that Florida consistently supplies the nation with the wildest, most off-kilter news stories imaginable. Florida’s reputation precedes it and has surely caused many to ponder “Why is it always Florida, why are the people of Florida always doing the craziest damn things?”
Although these wild stories are true, the proportion of stories that come out of Florida is leading to a nationwide misconception. I’d argue Floridians aren’t any wilder than the other forty-nine’s inhabitants. The majority of Florida’s negative exposure can be attributed to yellow journalism and adherence to a 110 year old legal statute. However, the same technicality that has been giving us Florida Man headlines, has also been giving headaches to Florida’s less informed Florida business owners.
Florida’s Bad Rap
If you could come away from this blog convinced of only one thing, Northwest Registered Agent wants it to be this: Florida simply does not deserve the stereotypes and mockery it receives on a national level. Period. This sentiment is not only echoed by the employees of our Tallahassee branch and its clients, but a cavalcade of credible statistics.
According to the FBI’s 2018 Uniform Crime Report, Florida is actually ranked as the 2nd safest state in the South. The report also shows that the South saw the sharpest decline in violent crime of all regions, achieving an overall -6.5%.
Other notable findings from the report include:
- Every category of crime decreased in Florida from the previous year
- Florida’s violent crime rate is at its lowest in 47 years
- Florida ranks in the bottom (safer) half of all states in firearms deaths per capita
- Although Florida has 3 of the 30 most populated cities in the US, it has zero in the nation’s 50 with the highest rates of crime
Crime isn’t the only part of Florida Man’s mystique. After looking into other pertinent topics of research, the new data only bolsters the trend displayed in the FBI’s crime report. A 2018 Forbes study ranking every state’s public education system placed Florida at 26th. The nonprofit group Mental Health America conducted research aiming to evaluate “overall prevalence of mental illness, and ease of access/adequacy of care,” and ranked Florida at 25th.
These stats don’t suggest that Florida is the lawless hellscape every news headline does. The data suggests that if Florida should be ridiculed for anything, it should be for its adherence to being lost in the middle of the pack.
The Truth Behind the Myth of Florida Man
If it’s not crime, education, or mental health, what’s to blame for Florida’s bad rap? The US political landscape is all about blame nowadays—some blame the news media, others the government itself. But when it comes to the rise and prominence of “Florida Man,” you can confidently blame both.
The Florida Sunshine Law
The Florida state legislature adopted its first freedom of information (FOI) law in 1909. Like most state’s initial FOI laws, it ensured that any government records could be accessed by citizens. Most states have updated their FOI laws in an effort to limit the scope of what records are public, most notably to protect people’s privacy. Many of the state government’s operations and records become private as well, and thus starts the debate. The line between a citizen’s personal privacy and running a transparent government is a hard one to walk, and most state’s have chosen privacy and updated their FOI laws accordingly. Florida has done the opposite. Florida has updated their FOI laws three times, and each update expanded the amount of government information that was made public, and made that information easier to obtain.
“It is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person. Providing access to public records is a duty of each agency.”
— Fla. Stat. § 119.01(1)
That means anyone, at anytime, for any (or no) reason at all, can request any public record that’s in the possession of any arm of the Florida government. This includes: “documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, regardless of physical form, characteristics or means of transmission, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency.”
Florida Man exists because of journalists and other media that take advantage of this statute. Every single police record, arrest report, body camera, and 911 call transcript is readily available. Access to all of that information means that none of the gritty details are spared. For example, the media in another state may have a breaking news headline like “5 prison guards fired after 5 month internal investigation,” but in Florida you can actually request the documents from that internal investigation, giving you enough information to write the totally accurate (and far more interesting) headline “Guards Let Florida Man Vape in Prison Because He Helped Them With Their Taxes.” The Florida Sunshine Law gives media outlets a vast pool of information to form headlines from, so of course they lead with Florida Man’s antics instead of the mundane. Can you blame them?
The Effect on Florida Small Business Owners
If you own a Florida Corporation or Florida LLC, when you filed to start your small business you submitted either Articles of Formation or Articles of Incorporation form that asked for personal information from the organizer, such as:
- Your address
- Your name
- Your office’s principle address
- Your mailing address
- Your telephone number
- The names and addresses of all your company’s members
That’s a lot of information, but what’s more concerning is how easily anyone can request your Florida company’s formation documents and see it. Anyone with access to the internet can view a PDF of your formation documents with all of the organizer’s information above.
The best way to not provide that information to the public record and stay totally compliant with the Florida Division of Corporations is to have someone form your company on your behalf. At Northwest Registered Agent, when we form Florida businesses, our name, office address, and telephone number are the ones going on the public record, not yours! That’s because we are your “Organizer” meaning that we are filing on your behalf. And since we’re your registered agent, you can use our address for your principle office as well.
When will Florida Man’s Spree Finally End?
Florida Man’s memes and national popularity will eventually fade, but the logistics behind his legend are probably here to stay. As long as lawmakers stick to their hyper-literal interpretation of FOI statutes, Florida Man’s legacy will live on— as will the headlines, tweets, and memes that chronicle his escapades. Their laws might never emulate the level of privacy most states have adopted, but that shouldn’t make a Florida entrepreneur hesitant. There are ways to keep your personal information off of public records in Florida, just like the other states.
Sure, Florida may remain the center of the occasional joke, but it’s okay to laugh. Just know that Florida is not the cuckoo’s nest it’s portrayed as. The headlines are just a byproduct of Florida’s adherence to Freedom of Information, and statistically other places seem far more odd. Florida is still very much the Sunshine State, especially for entrepreneurs.