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Redistricting lawsuit? Legislators want more immunity

Florida legislators have traditionally had to fend off lawsuits that attempt to subpoena them and their staff to talk about the sausage-making of the legislative process. But state laws and lengthy legal precedent has kept them protected. This year, with redistricting lawsuits already pending, and the prospect of a protracted fight over whether or not the staff drew maps to protect incumbents, legislators want to pass a law that clarifies that opponents should keep their distance.

A four-page bill, PCB JDC 12-03, before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday would underscore what courts have traditionally upheld: that legislators have immunity from lawsuits. It spells out that in addition to giving legislators, former legislators, and their staffs protections from lawsuit, they will be protected from turning over documents too.

It reads in part:

"A member or former member of the legislature has an absolute privilege in any civil action, judicial administrative proceeding or executive branch administrative proceeding against compelled testimony or the compelled production of any document or record in connection with any action taken or function performed in a legislative capacity."

Legislators have recently been the target of a few lawsuits. Most recently, Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, was subpoenaed by lawyers for online travel companies who wanted him to a taped deposition of him in litigation regarding his distribution of what they regard as confidential company documents.

Reps. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, and legislative staff, as well as Sens. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, were also subpoenaed to appear in a lawsuit regarding an elections law legislators passed last year. None of them have been required to testify.