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'" »

July 13, 2015

The cost to Florida taxpayers for failed redistricting maps? $8.1 million, and counting

According to the latest tally by the Florida House and Senate, the cost to taxpayers for the Legislature's defense of the redistricting maps that the Florida Supreme Court ruled invalid last week is $8.1 million.

With a trial scheduled to begin in September over the challenge from Democrat-leaning voter groups to the state Senate map, the cost to the taxpayers is mounting. 

The House, which doesn't face a legal challenge to its own maps, has spent the most -- $4.2 million, through July 10. The Senate has spent $3.9 million -- so far.

What could that money be used for had lawmakers not relied on political operatives and illegally created a map with the intent to protect incumbents? It would be enough to pay $10,000 bonuses to 810 high-performing teachers. It's enough to pay the average hospital stay for 4,050 uninsured. It's even enough to expand the tax free back-to-school holiday another day. 

The Florida Supreme Court ruled last week that eight of the 27 congressional districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature violates the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution and must be redrawn by Oct. 17. That means that at least 25 districts aligned next to them will likely have to be changed as well. 

Lawmakers are expected to announce this week the dates of the special session to redraw the new districts but, with so much at stake over the state now-challenge Senate maps, will they decide to save taxpayers the cost of defending them and revise the Senate maps as well? 

David King, the lead attorney for the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs in the case, notes that there are similarities between the way the Senate and congressional maps were adopted. 

"The Senate map and the congressional map are two different maps,'' he said during a conference call with reporters last week. "But they were enacted pursuant to pretty much that same procedure and they were impacted by the same political operatives who had the same partisan intent."

He concluded that the court's ruling on the Senate map "will be highly significant on the Senate case."

More to come.

Cruz tells Crisafulli: no private meetings -- between anyone -- is acceptable on redistricting

As Florida legislators and their staff continue to meet in private to discuss when to hold a special session to rewrite the congressional maps, House Democratic Leader designate Janet Cruz has sent a letter of admonishment reminding them that every meeting -- including those with the private attorneys whose fees are paid by taxpayers -- should be done in public. 

"In short, the Legislature has done an incredible disservice to our state,'' Cruz wrote in a letter to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

"It is clear you allowed partisan operatives – at the direction of our own leadership – to violate the imperatives of our state’s Constitution; you failed to keep records and, in fact, destroyed records that would have revealed the misconduct; defended, at enormous cost to taxpayers, the misconduct itself; and, worst of all, forced Floridians to elect their congressional delegation from illegally drawn districts. This conduct flies in the face of the Democratic principles this state and country were built on."

She concluded that "the Republican leadership will never be able to adequately redress these wrongs but you at least owe it to the people of Florida to not repeat them."

Crisafulli was not pleased. 

"When a letter is sent to the media before it is sent to me, it is clear that the purpose is political,'' he said via his spokesman. "It's too bad because there is no need for Rep. Cruz to act in such an aggressive and partisan manner."

Here's her letter:

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July 11, 2015

Legislators remain silent about redistricting plans and face limited options

Uncertainty continued to reign in Florida’s political world Friday, a day after the state Supreme Court declared Florida’s congressional map invalid and ordered up a remedy by Oct. 17.

Legislative leaders remained silent about what’s next, saying they were absorbing the implications of the ruling that blew up the state’s congressional map.

But legal scholars and redistricting experts say legislators have limited options and, with the Supreme Court giving them only 100 days and employing the unusual move of retaining jurisdiction over the case to ensure that the process moves quickly, legislators are under the gun to make some decisions fast.

“Whatever procedure the state Legislature is going to adopt, they need to do it right now,” said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida who has been a redistricting consultant in 14 states.

“They have to justify how the map was formed, and it has to be very transparent. One hundred days is a very tight deadline to do all of that and get a new map.”

While Republican legislative leaders may be under some pressure to try to fight the ruling — in an attempt to retain the existing districts for another cycle and help congressional Republicans hold onto the U.S. House — the prospects for litigation also are limited. T

hey could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, said Justin Levitt, a Loyola School of Law professor and an expert on redistricting law.

More here.

July 09, 2015

The political fallout of Florida's redistricting decision


For Florida Democrats, the dream 2016 scenario goes like this: A Democrat gets elected to Congress in Tampa. Another one in Orlando. A third in Miami. The party picks up three seats, suddenly holding almost half of the state’s congressional delegation.

But Thursday’s ruling by the Florida Supreme Court ordering that the state’s congressional map be redrawn doesn’t guarantee the Democrats’ wishes will come true.

The court’s 5-2 decision landed as a political bombshell 16 months before an election in the country’s largest swing state. Two of the districts directly affected already have nationally watched competitive races. Yet it’s too early to know exactly how everything will play out, especially considering how the state Democratic Party has struggled to seize past opportunities.

Much will depend on the Republican-controlled Florida House and Senate, which are responsible for creating the new boundaries. The court wants eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts redrawn in 100 days, though more districts will almost certainly be affected.

What gives Democrats hope is that the eight targeted districts are in the state’s most populated — read: most liberal — areas: Three are based in Miami-Dade County and two in Broward and Palm Beach; two lie in the Tampa Bay area, and one stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando.

More here.

Tampa Bay Democrat proposes independent redistricting commission

Is it time to take redistricting out of the hands of the Florida Legislature?

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, thinks so, especially in light of a Thursday ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that will require lawmakers to redraw eight congressional districts before the 2016 election.

In the next state legislative session -- for which committee meetins begin in September -- Dudley will propose that district maps for Congress, as well as the state House and Senate be drawn up by an independent commission.

"Instead of voters choosing their elected officials, it has been the elected officials who have chosen their voters," he said in a statement. "Despite a clarion call from the people to end gerrymandering and restore fairness to the redistricting process, the Florida Legislature has continued to engage in misdirection and skullduggery."

Other states have made similar decisions in an effort to keep politics (and, presumably, skullduggery) out of the process that results in district maps. Notably, Arizona's commission was recently upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The concern with allowing lawmakers to draw their own districts is that it allows the party in power to make boundaries that will ensure they remain in the majority. There are rules and laws in place to try and prevent that, but there are still parts of the state with districts that the Supreme Court says don't follow constitutional requirements of fairness.

Similar proposals to Dudley's have been announced before. This spring, Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, introduced legislation to create a redistricting commission. It never had a single committee hearing in the House or Senate.

How state lawmakers feel about the Supreme Court's redistricting ruling

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday threw out the maps for eight of Florida's congressional districts, requiring that the Legislature draw up new boundaries. A few of state lawmakers responsible for drawing them have let their opinions be known.

Former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville:

Most observers would have been very surprised if the Supreme Court had not sided with the Democratic Party and Democratic activists on this issue...I believe that the maps, the congressional maps, as drawn were compliant with the Constitution, and therefore, I voted for them as a member of the Senate.

Florida House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach:

I hope the third time is the charm. I trust all members of the Legislature to act not only in good faith, but to act in full compliance with the constitution and the voters’ will.

Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merrit Island, via an email from spokesperson Michael Williams:

At this time, the Speaker will reserve comment until he has had time to fully review the Supreme Court's ruling.

Reaction from members of Congress directly affected by Florida Supreme Court redistricting order


Eight incumbent members of Congress were directly affected Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court's ruling that state lawmakers redraw their districts. (Other representatives will likely be indirectly affected by new boundaries.) 

Here's what the members of Congress had to say:

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami (District 27)

I look forward to representing the constituents of whatever district the court decides should be drawn up. It has been an incredible experience to have represented every part of Miami-Dade County during my years of public service so in whatever form the district ends up, it will be like coming home again. No worries.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami (District 26)

Since arriving in Washington I have been focused on improving the quality of life in South Florida and making our country stronger. The potential of new district lines is not a distraction for me nor will it diminish my desire to represent and serve the community in which my wife and I are raising our family.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami (District 25)

At this stage, I am still reviewing the Florida Supreme Court's opinion, and will be interested to see what the State Legislature will do.

Continue reading "Reaction from members of Congress directly affected by Florida Supreme Court redistricting order" »

The 8 congressional districts the Florida Supreme Court wants redrawn


The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that legislators must go back to the drawing board for eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts:

• District 5, held by Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville

• District 13, held by Rep. David Jolly, R-Tampa

• District 14, held by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa

• District 21, held by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton

• District 22, held by Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach

• District 25, held by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami

• District 26, held by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami

• District 27, held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami

Court rules 5-2 that Florida's congressional map was 'tainted' and orders redo

The Florida Supreme Court took a wrecking ball to Florida's political landscape Thursday, throwing out the state's carefully-crafted congressional districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature and ordered a new map within 100 days.

In the historic 5-2 ruling, with Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissenting, the court not only ruled the maps were the product of unconstitutional political gerrymandering, it signaled its deep distrust of lawmakers and provided detailed instructions on how to repair the flawed map in time for the 2016 election. Download OP-SC14-1905_LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS_JULY09

"This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair District amendment and sought fair representation where the Legislature didn't pick their voters,'' said David King, lead attorney for the League of Women Voters and the coalition of voter groups which brought the challenge. "The Supreme Court accepted every challenge we made and ordered the Legislature to do it over.''

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