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Should legislators start clock earlier on redistricting?

The Florida House convened its first meeting of its redistricting committee seven weeks into session today and, after an overview by lawyer Miguel DeGrandy, Rep. Even Jenne asked: are they moving fast enough?

DeGrandy, a state rep from Miami during the 1992 redistricting brawl that was lasted for two years, recalled how he qualified to run for re-election only to have the court redraw the district, knock him out of the district he lived in, and forcede him and dozens of other legislative hopefuls to rush to their elections office and refile. Confusion reigned and DeGrandy warned that could happen again.

"Voter confusion was rampant in 1992,'' he said. "What I can tell you is your concern is well-founded and the sooner that you start, the less chance there is something like that happening."

DeGrandy, who believes there is a "100 percent chance" the redistricting plans will be challenged in court, told members: "There is a possibilty you may run for election in a plan that is ultimately thrown out by court.''

Rep. Will Weatherford, the Republican chairman of the committee, said he has no plans to accelerate the process that now calls for lawmakers to convene their regular session two months earlier than normal, in January 2012, to provide enough time for the required court clearance of the redistricting plans.

“We’re going to see how that plays out,'' he said after the committee hearing Wednesday. "Right now, the way we see it is we want to hear from the people first. We want to spend time talking with the citizens of the State of Florida….Once we do that, we’ll be in a position where people will file bills."

Rep. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat and incoming Democratic leader, said he has proposed a bill to start the clock sooner but it, and the Senate companion by Sen. Nan Rich, hasn't gotten a hearing.

Meanwhile, the threat of a lawsuit looms on everything legislators do. Weatherford, wary of being deposed by lawyers for any challengers, warned members not discuss with him or with each other how they'd like to see their districts drawn.

Weatherford said, also adding some cautions taken from an earlier letter to lawmakers from House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

"Members should refrain from discussing their personal political ambitions, their personal district preferences or the ambitions or preferences of other candidates or office-holders with the chairman, the members or the staff of the redistricting committee, '' Weatherford said, urging them to re-read a letter of cautions from House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

“There’s no doubt -- the new constitutional requirements are very specific in that we should not have intent to favor or disfavor any political incumbent or party or individual,'' Weatherford said. "What we’re interested in is what the future of the state should look like based on population trends, based on compactness and geographic boundaries, not based on what individual own personal preferences may be.

"It’s probably different from what most  legislators are used to but the benefit of a term limited legislature is no body went through it before – so it’s new for everyone."