October 21, 2015

More dissent and redistricting angst in Senate: 'I have lost confidence'

Dissent and distrust continued to overshadow redistricting discussions Wednesday as the Florida Senate embarked on another long day of deliberations over maps.

“We pick out pieces of rulings when it serves our purpose,’’ said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon after listening to answers from the Senate's legal team during the second day of hearings on Senate redistricting. “…I just don’t find any consistency in this. I think I’ve lost confidence.”

Lee and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, spent much of the meeting trying to ask the question: where do the base maps address the complaints by the challengers? The answer, from Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and the Senate’s lead attorney: the draft maps don’t address the plaintiffs complaints and they don't need to.

The League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning plaintiffs sued the Senate for violating the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution when it drew the 2012 redistricting map.

The Legislature agreed to settle the lawsuit and returned this week for a three-week special session to redraw the map.

The Senate lawyers said its legal theory is based on the notion that the plaintiffs complaints are just allegations and they are ignoring them and starting over in redrawing the Senate maps.

Bad idea, said Lee, the Senate’s appropriations chairman and former Senate president.

"All of these maps may have changed but the concepts that the plaintiffs found unconstitutional have not always been addressed in these maps,’’ he said.

For example, the plaintiffs note that crossing Tampa Bay to create districts to benefit incumbents violates the constitution. Draft maps 9070, 9072 and 9076 all cross Tampa Bay to link communities in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in Senate District 22, now held by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

But Galvano, and the Senate’s lead attorney, former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, say that while the lawsuit brought by the plaintiffs provoked them to admit the enacted map was unconstitutional, it’s not enough for them to admit their allegations are right.

Instead, Cantero told the Senate committee, the Senate believes all of its draft maps are constitutional.

The goal, he said, is “not necessarily accepting the plaintiffs’ version of fact but being able to justify your version of facts…If we have a rational justification for it then it is perfectly legitimate.’’

Lee pressed: where is the justification? They broke for lunch and when they returned they didn't immediately return to the answer.

Meanwhile, in a letter to the League of Women Voters president Pamela Goodman on Monday, Galvano invited the plaintiffs in the case to appear before the Senate redistricting committee saying he would “welcome your thoughts and input on the six proposed base maps.” Download 10.19.15_Galvano_re_LWV_invite

The lead lawyer for the league declined but, in a letter signed Tuesday, warned that the Senate may not want to ignore their initial complaints.

“As you know, in May 2015, our clients provided detailed, written objections to twenty eight of the unconstitutional districts in 9030 [the enacted Senate map.],’’ wrote David King, the league’s lawyer.  Download 2015 10-20 King-Levesque

“We were disappointed to learn that in drafting the six base maps, Legislative staff did not even consider those objections. Rather, the Legislature's base maps reflect new methodologies and approaches, ones that appear to prioritize reducing county splits above other Tier-2 considerations.

“Of course we will continue to monitor the Legislature's process and will, if necessary, provide feedback at the appropriate time. We remain optimistic that the Legislature will do what it must to assure that its ultimate approach results in the most constitutionally compliant map possible, such that additional input from our clients will not be necessary.”

Meanwhile, there is one area where the Senate lawyers did want to pay attention to the plaintiff’s complaint: the area of the district numbering. The incumbent senators in even-number Senate districts would not have to run for re-election in 2016 because they were elected to four-year terms in 2014, the lawyers said they have concluded.

“There is nothing in the complaint that objects to the numbering system so the system that is used is based on a random drawing process,’’ Cantero told the committee.

The districts would undergo a mathematical formula created by Redistricting Staff Director Jay Ferrin to determine what 20 districts had the greatest percentage of the population in their existing districts and they would then not have to run for re-election.

Lee became agitated. “We just want to keep wanting to have it both ways,'' he said. "I just feel like every time we get an answer we’re living in an alternative universe here. We know what we want the answer to be but it never comes out that way.”

October 20, 2015

Two Democrats file bills to impose penalties for violating gerrymandering ban

Taxpayers shouldn't be the only ones on the hook when legislators violate the state's anti-gerrymandering laws, legislators should pay up too, according to a bill filed Tuesday by two Democratic lawmakers. 

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando and Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg filed legislation that imposes penalties for when legislators violate the Fair Districts provisions of the Florida Constitution. The bills, SB 6-C and HB 3C, would impose penalties up to $5,000 for any violation and require the Legislature to also consider either censure, reprimand or expulsion from the legislature as punishment.

The bill has been filed for the 2015 C Special Session which began Monday.

“I have heard inquiries from countless constituents as to why no penalty exists for violating the Fair Districts Amendments,” Soto said in a statement. “This bill gives assurances to the people that if legislators violate their pledge to uphold the Constitution, real penalties await them.”

Dudley said the legislation was overdue.

“It’s about time we hold the people accountable who have defiantly, flagrantly and maliciously wasted millions of taxpayer dollars in order to perpetuate their own incumbency,'' he said in a statement. "Considering that stealing a piece of bubblegum can result in a sixty-day jail sentence and a $500 fine, we must create commensurate penalties for those who take millions while making a mockery of our democracy."

Continue reading "Two Democrats file bills to impose penalties for violating gerrymandering ban" »

October 19, 2015

Big questions loom as redistricting session starts, here are some of them

S9070Legislators return to the state Capitol on Monday for yet another session on redistricting. This time, they’ll be drawing the state Senate map and it's going to get difficult and personal. (Here's our set-up story on that.) 

They also will use the three-week period to get some work done, in anticipation of the legislative session that begins in January -- two months earlier than normal – by hearing bills and getting agency briefings in committees.

But the main event are the maps. Here are some questions we'll be asking, and watching:

• Base map, space map?

The House is focused on the base map, arguing that using a map drawn by staff in relative seclusion with only the hired attorneys at hand is the purest way to avoid improper partisan intent. The Senate is ready to agree, arguing that the maps are a starting point and that want – and expect -- some refinements. What happens with the base maps and whether the House will agree to any alterations of them will be key.

• Row, row, row across Tampa Bay?

Continue reading "Big questions loom as redistricting session starts, here are some of them" »

October 16, 2015

Senate makes its case to court: It's congressional map is better and trial court got it wrong

In the redistricting battle that has become Tallahassee's political soap opera, the Florida Senate on Friday asked the state Supreme Court to reject the map recommended by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis which it says was "drawn in secret'' and instead pick one of the two maps offered by the Senate. 

On Oct. 9, Lewis recommended the high court approve the map drawn by the challengers in the case, the League of Women Voters, which borrowed 20 of the districts approved by the House and revised the rest. 

The Senate called that an affront to their "transparent" redistricting standards because it "allowed parties with unknown motivations to lurk in the shadows looking for ways to modify the Legislature’s work."

They also argue that the map drawn by the plaintiffs, diminishes the ability of Hispanics to be elected to District 26, now held by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. Lewis had rejected that argument, saying the evidence supplied by the witness for the House, Florida International University Professor Dario Moreno was anecdotal. 

"The Order fails to recognize, however, that this Court did not require the Legislature to draw Florida’s congressional districts completely from scratch,'' the Senate added. "...The Senate designed Plan 9062 to preserve current District 16 while reducing the number of splits to Hillsborough County from four to three. Because any resulting difference in compactness is negligible, Plan 9062 is a superior map."

The alternative, Plan 9066, submitted by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, after the session adjourned "offers an improved configuration of Central Florida,'' they argued. 

It also said the court should reject the challengers' maps because they "were drawn in secret, instead of in the open and transparent legislative process this Court envisioned in Apportionment VII."

The court will hear arguments on the maps on Nov. 10. Until then, lawmakers will be focused on another redistricting drama, playing out over their self-imposed special session starting Monday to redraw the Senate maps.  

House asks for and receives delay in oral arguments on redistricting map

The Florida Supreme Court has granted a request for a delay in the oral arguments for the congressional redistricting map, postponing the hearing originally set for Monday, Nov. 2 to Tuesday, Nov. 10.

The Florida House of Representatives requested the delay, suggesting that it "would suffer extreme, manifest hardship" if its lawyers were forced to appear in court when they could be advising the House and Senate on the three-week redistricting session that ends Nov. 6.

The House has spent $4.3 million on legal fees relating to redistricting to date. The Senate has spent $5.3 million but it's lawyers did not join in the request for delay. 

"The active participation of the House's legal counsel at that committee meeting is essential to an informed evaluation of any such plans or amendments,'' the House lawyers wrote in the request filed on Thursday.

"...The House would suffer extreme, manifest hardship if its counsel were unable to participate in the committee meeting, or if members of the committee who have made arrangements in reliance on the published schedule were required to rearrange their schedules, including their travel to and from Tallahassee."  Download Filed_10-15-2015_Motion_for_Continuance and schedulng order

The court agreed to give them another week and a day, adding in all caps: "NO CONTINUANCES WILL BE GRANTED EXCEPT UPON A SHOWING OF EXTREME HARDSHIP." Download Filed_10-16-2015_Order_Rescheduling_Oral_Arguments 

$11 million later, legislators embark on third attempt at drawing Senate maps

In what may be one of the most expensive do-overs in Florida political history, lawmakers return Monday in special session to complete something they failed to get right three years ago — the realignment of state Senate district boundaries to accommodate population growth.

The three-week redistricting session comes after legislators admitted in July that they violated the new anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution when they drew the Senate map to benefit incumbents and political parties in 2012 as part of the state’s once-a-decade reapportionment process. This time they will try again to revise the map and then will seek court approval for the final plan.

Lawmakers have already tried and failed three times to redo the congressional map and, after four special sessions and three years of legal battles, the cost to taxpayers of their botched exercise will have exceeded $11 million when this session is over.

More here.

October 14, 2015

Federal court rejects lawsuit challenging anti-gerrymandering law

In a stinging blow to opponents of the state's anti-gerrymandering amendments, a federal court this week has thrown out a lawsuit filed by two Florida Republican Party officials who claimed the new law violated the constitution because it had a "chilling effect" on their free speech and petition rights.

Tim Norris, the Walton County Republican Executive Committee Chairman and Randy Maggard, the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Chairman. sued the Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner in August, demanding that he not enforce the Fair Districts provisions of the state constitution.

They made the argument being echoed by many lawmakers that their speech is chilled because, as members of a political party, it will be used to invalidate a map. Hoping to find a venue that was most favorable to them, they filed the case in the Northern District of Florida in Pensacola. 

But in a 16-page opinion, the chief judge of the district, Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who was appointed by George W. Bush, rejected their argument and dismissed the case.

"The problem with Plaintiffs’ position is that they have not shown that their speech or conduct is prohibited or even 'arguably forbidden' by the Fair Districts Amendments on their face or as applied,'' Rodgers wrote.

She concluded that the amendments added to the Florida Constitution in 2010 were directed at the Florida Legislature "no one else" and there has been no barrier to citizen political speech but added, "Plaintiffs have no First Amendment right to a partisan map."

Continue reading "Federal court rejects lawsuit challenging anti-gerrymandering law" »

Frederica Wilson urges court to reject 'packed' congressional district

Making a last-ditch appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson asked the court in an "open letter" on Wednesday to reject a proposed map drawn by the challengers in the Florida redistricting fight because it is "needlessly compact" and removes the Port of Miami from her district.

Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, a former state senator who created the "Florida's Ports Caucus" to "coordinate federal action in support of Florida's harbors and waterways" argues that she prefers an alternate option that keeps the port in her district.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis last week recommended a map drawn by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause best meet the criteria of the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida constitution. The Florida Supreme Court, which must approve the final map, set a Nov. 2 hearing to hear arguments about the recommendation. Wilson argues that two other maps offered by the challengers are better options for her district. 

Here's Wilson's letter:

Continue reading "Frederica Wilson urges court to reject 'packed' congressional district" »

Legislators release six staff-drawn 'bases maps' for Senate redistricting session

Florida House and Senate leaders on Wednesday released six staff-drawn base maps that reconfigure the state Senate boundaries which they will offer up to legislators as a starting point for the three-week special session that begins on Monday. 

That maps, each drawn by adhering to two different sets of standards, were designed to replace the enacted map produced by lawmakers in 2012, which legislative leaders conceded violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution. 

"We believe each map complies with the relevant legal standards contained in the Florida Constitution and federal law, including the Florida Supreme Court’s recent interpretations,'' wrote House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva and Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano in a memo to legislators on Wednesday. 

Lawmakers have convened a special session to make a third attempt at redrawing the Senate maps after the Florida Supreme Court invalidated a congressional map they drew in 2012 because it was done with "improper partisan intent."

Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court announced that it will conduct a hearing Nov. 2, the third week of the special session, on the congressional map. Legislators failed to agree to a congressional map in a special session in August and Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday recommended the court adopt a map that was proposed by the challengers in the lawsuit, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause as one that closest adheres to the guidelines set by the Florida Supreme Court in its July ruling. 

This time, the House and Senate wrote their own guidelines for building the maps. According to methodology prepared by lawyers hired by the Republican leaders in each chamber, the maps adhere to the following standards:

Continue reading "Legislators release six staff-drawn 'bases maps' for Senate redistricting session " »