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Legislators plan to return for redistricting session on Thursday

Facing an Aug. 15 deadline, Florida legislative leaders will announce Monday that they will bring lawmakers back for a week-long special session on Thursday, Aug. 7, to revise the congressional redistricting map declared invalid by a judge.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ordered unconstitutional, those held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden.

Lewis gave the Legislature until Aug. 15 to fix the map, an action that requires a special session of the Legislature and an abrupt halt to their summer vacations and primary campaigning.

Lewis also said he was considering calling a special election after Nov. 4 for the affected districts and he called for an Aug. 20 hearing to decide how to go forward.

The plan is to allow most of the legislature return to their districts after they convene for the opening session on Thursday. Only those legislators who are members of the House and Senate redistricting committees will stay to work out the details of the revised map. The full House and Senate will then return on Wednesday, Aug. 13 or Thursday, Aug. 14, to pass the final map before the deadline.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Senate leaders had advised him late Sunday that "we gavel in on Thursday."

In an email late Friday to Senate members and staff, Senate President Don Gaetz said they had not decided how to respond to Lewis' ruling but asked everyone to "keep and do not delete" all redistricting records in light of the pending litigation over congressional districts.

House deputy general counsel Steve Goodwin sent a similar email late Friday with the same directions to House members and staff. House members were informed in an email from House chief of staff Kathy Mears on Sunday that they will have an announcement about the legislative response on Monday.

In his July 10 ruling, Lewis concluded that Florida's legislative leaders destroyed documents and allowed political consultants to "make a mockery" of their self-described transparency in the redistricting process. He found that GOP political consultants conspired "to infuence and manipulate the Legislature into violation of its constitutional duty" under the Fair District amendments.

The Legislature has chosen not to appeal the ruling but had asked the wait until after the Nov. 4 elections to revise the map. Lewis rejected that argument but left open the possibility that the revised map will not be in place this election cycle.

There is no indication whether political consultants or the public will be allowed to provide input into the redistricting session this time but House and Senate leaders are now officially asking members not to destroy any records.

Gaetz's memo defines documents that must be preserved as "all records related to the enactment of new congressional districts, including copies of unfiled draft maps, unfiled draft bills and amendments, correspondence, emails, texts and other electronic communications related to the enactment of new congressional districts, whether sent or received on official Senate accounts or devices or personal email accounts or devices.”