July 28, 2015

Florida Senate: We broke anti-gerrymandering law


Because it's not every day that the Florida Senate admits it violated the state's constitution.

From a legal settlement in which the Senate agreed to redraw district boundaries:


The Florida House wants everyone to know it wasn't its fault.

From a joint statement by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner:


Legislature sets special session for October to redraw Florida Senate districts


The Florida Legislature has set yet another special session, this time for October to redraw the Florida Senate district lines that opponents had argued violated the state constitution prohibition on gerrymandering to favor or disfavor politicians.

The Legislature will meet from Oct. 19 to Nov. 6, according to a joint statement put out by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner.

It will mark the third special session this year. In June, legislators met in special session to finish a budget that was not completed during the regular session in the spring. In August, legislators will be in special session again to redraw the state's 27 congressional districts, which the Florida Supreme Court ruled earlier this month violated the state consitution.

The court had not instructed the Legislature to redraw the Senate lines yet, but Senate leaders have agreed to make the changes now based on they said was a new precedent the Supreme Court set in throwing out the Congressional lines.

In its landmark ruling, the Supreme Court invalidated the state's congressional map after political operatives "infiltrated" the process, used fake email accounts to submit the maps as nonpartisan private citizens and created districts that found their way into the final maps approved by lawmakers. Because those actions violated the Fair Districts provisions of the state Constitution, the court ordered lawmakers to redraw eight congressional districts and provided guidelines on how to do it.

A trial over the Senate map was scheduled to begin Sept. 28 in Leon County Circuit Court in a case in which two Democrat-leaning groups, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, argue that 28 of the 40 Senate districts were designed to favor incumbents and the Republican Party, violating the Fair Districts amendments to the state Constitution.

July 27, 2015

New sign of accord? Lawyers agree on congressional redistricting schedule -- and talks of Senate settlement is on table

Signaling a new sense of cooperation between lawyers for the Legislature and a coalition of voters groups over redistricting, a hearing to organize the trial schedule for the congressional map lasted just over three minutes Monday as both sides hinted that an early accord is likely. 

“I think there’s a high likelihood, with the specific direction that the Legislature has from the Supreme Court, that maybe we won’t need a long remedial hearing,’’ said David King, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, which include the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. 

King and lawyers for the House and Senate agreed to trial schedule for the new congressional map that ends on Sept. 25. 

“Thanks for being so agreeable,’’ said Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, as the hearing adjourned.

Meanwhile, the ruling that invalidated the congressional map is also provoking discussions over a possible settlement in the Senate map, as the Herald/Times reported first last week.

After the brief hearing on the congressional map, the lawyers for the House, Senate and the plaintiffs – along with a private court reporter – congregated in a conference room in the LeonCounty courthouse.

Senate spokewoman Katie Betta said the meeting related to “attorney client” privilege and was not open to reporters.

They lawyers met for 10 minutes and emerged without comment.

“They’re talking about pending litigation with regard to the Senate maps,’’ said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee. “I’m not going to comment on that because it’s pending litigation.” 

When asked if discussions are underway for a settlement, he said: “I’m not going to comment on that.”

King also would not comment. 

“I really can’t say, I’m sorry but we’ll see happens soon,” he said. 

July 25, 2015

Will the roadmap through Florida redistricting include revising Senate map early?

Crisafulli and GardinerLike the aftershocks of an earthquake, Florida legislators are feeling the tremors of the Florida Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling on their own districts — particularly in the state Senate.

Senators who thought they had comfortable re-election bids are now facing uncertainty as questions loom about whether the same factors that led the court to invalidate the congressional map will provoke judges to reject the Senate political boundaries, too. That would force the Legislature into another special session to redraw the Senate map and potentially make politically safe districts for many incumbents more competitive.

Legislative leaders are privately discussing whether to proactively redraw the Senate map before it is thrown out by a court or — in their worst-case scenario — redrawn by the court.

“One could say that since the court has returned the congressional maps to us twice, there is reason to believe a Senate map could be returned as well,” said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, who will head the House redistricting committee when lawmakers return in special session in August.

But, Oliva told the Herald/Times, “if any discussions are happening about the Senate maps, it’s happening between presiding officers.” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, would not confirm that discussions are taking place.

More here.

July 23, 2015

Congressional Black Caucus keeping eye on Florida redistricting


African American members of Congress are making it clear that they will be watching Florida’s redistricting efforts to assure black communities do not lose their voice in Washington.

“The Congressional Black Caucus supports a redistricting plan that enables African American communities to have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” said U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, chairman of the caucus. “We encourage the Florida legislature to draft a redistricting plan that does not retrogress and maintains the current ability of African American Floridians to elect members of Congress.”

Florida has three members in that caucus, including U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, whose 5th Congressional District was among those the Florida Supreme Court ruled earlier this month had been to be redrawn because they were “tainted with unconstitutional intent” to favor Republicans and incumbents.

Brown’s district is expected to face some of the most severe redrawing based on the Supreme Court’s ruling. Her district currently stretches from Jacksonville to the Orlando area.

Brown has blasted the court’s decision as being “seriously flawed” and failing to recognize that the 5th District “maintains communities of interest.”

The Florida Legislature is set to begin a special session on Aug 10 to redraw Brown's district, as well as six other districts, including two in Miami, one in Boca Raton and another in West Palm Beach.

July 21, 2015

Court sets Sept. 22-25 for review of Legislature's congressional redistricting map

From the News Service of Florida:

The Legislature and a coalition that successfully challenged the state's congressional districts have agreed to a schedule for a Leon County judge to determine whether lawmakers' second attempt to draw a map complies with the state Constitution.

The agreement, submitted to the Leon County circuit court late Tuesday, calls for a hearing on the new map to begin Sept. 22 and wrap up no later than Sept. 25. Leon County Circuit Judge George S. Reynolds III, who is in charge of a separate legal challenge to districts for the state Senate, had already set a Sept. 25 deadline for the end of the congressional case.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis --- who oversaw the initial challenge to the congressional map --- will also handle the second hearing. The case will ultimately return to the Florida Supreme Court, which struck down eight districts in a 5-2 ruling earlier this month.

Continue reading "Court sets Sept. 22-25 for review of Legislature's congressional redistricting map " »

July 20, 2015

Galvano and Oliva to chair redistricting committees

Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, and Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, will chair the respective House and Senate redistricting committees when lawmakers convene in a 12-day session beginning Aug. 10.

Also on the Senate committee are Republican Sens. Rob Bradley, Tom Lee and David Simmons. Democratic senators are Chris Smith, Audrey Gibson and Bill Montford.

In addition to Oliva, the House committee will include Republican Reps. Travis Cummings, Larry Metz, Marlene O'Toole, David Santiago, Jennifer Sullivan, Carlos Trujillo and Dana Young. Democratic representatives include Reggie Fullwood, Jared Moskowitz, Mark Pafford and Irv Slosberg.

Here's the House's membership and proposed schedule:

Continue reading "Galvano and Oliva to chair redistricting committees" »

Legislators order staff to redraw congressional map and limit contact to lawyers

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner said Monday they will take an extraordinary hands-off approach to revising the state's eight congressional districts and asked staff to sequester itself from input and draw a joint "base map."

Staff is ordered to refrain from talking to anyone but legal counsel about the maps and "report" any legislators who attempts to inject illegal intent into the process.  

"We believe that presenting a base map that follows the Supreme Court order to you and the public will make it easier to discuss all legislative actions in an open and transparent manner,'' the officers wrote in their joint memo released Monday.

The extraordinary measures are a response to the unusual situation legislators find themselves in after the Florida Supreme Court voted 5-2 to invalidate the state's congressional map because they were "tainted with unconstitutional intent to favor the Republicans and incumbents."

The burden of proof now shifts to lawmakers to prove that they are following the law and, to do that, Crisafulli and Gardiner have ordered lawmakers to compile all documents and communications  related to drawing the maps and imposed the no-talk rule with map-drawers.

Continue reading "Legislators order staff to redraw congressional map and limit contact to lawyers" »

Florida's special redistricting session set for Aug. 10-21

Florida legislative leaders issued a joint proclamation Monday setting the dates of the next special session on redistricting for Aug. 10-21. The proclamation says the "sole and exclusive purpose" of the session is to redraw congressional district boundaries in response to a recent decision by the state Supreme Court.

In a joint memorandum, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, wrote:

In preparation for the Legislature’s important work during an expedited special session, we are instructing professional staff of the House Select Committee on Redistricting and the Senate Committee on Reapportionment to work collaboratively with House and Senate legal counsel to develop a base map that complies with the Florida Supreme Court’s recent ruling and all of the relevant legal standards. This map proposal will be drafted solely by staff in collaboration with counsel, without our participation or the participation of any other member, and will be provided simultaneously to all members and the public prior to the convening of the Special Session. Our specific direction to staff is to begin their work by redrawing Congressional Districts 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26, and 27 in compliance with the recent ruling of the Florida Supreme Court and to make any necessary conforming changes consistent with Article III, Section 20, of the Florida Constitution.  

Continue reading "Florida's special redistricting session set for Aug. 10-21" »

July 17, 2015

Crisafulli: There will be no traveling hearings on redistricting; Lee: process is 'paralyzed'

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said no Friday to the request from members of the state's congressional delegation to conduct "hearings across our great state" on redistricting before a special session.

"We are responding to a specific court order under a very tight time frame,'' Crisafulli told the Herald/Times in a statement. "The court did not contemplate statewide public hearings when they set the time frame. We will, however, have opportunities for public comment and public testimony."

Crisafulli hinted, however, that the request for the hearings could be viewed by the court as an attempt by the congressional members to influence the Legislature and make the map vulnerable to interpretations of favoring incumbents, in violation of the Fair Districts provisions of the state Constitution. 

"I have asked all of our staff and members to have no contact with congressional members, staff, or consultants during the congressional reapportionment process,'' he said. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, was not available for comment. 

Lawyers for the House and Senate told Tallahassee Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds on Friday that they expect lawmakers to announce the dates of a special session early next week. Early reports are that it will be called for Aug. 10-21. 

Also Friday, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said that the court ruling had resulted in "a bit of paralysis" on the part of lawmakers.

Continue reading "Crisafulli: There will be no traveling hearings on redistricting; Lee: process is 'paralyzed'" »