December 16, 2015

Bill Galvano under oath: I did not know Senate map benefitted Republicans

Day 2 Galvano

The head of the Senate redistricting committee testified Wednesday that he had no idea the map he submitted to the court gave Republicans a potential three-vote majority in the Senate and paired the fewest incumbents of any other proposal.

"I don’t know how clear I can make it. We did not …analyze where members live,’’ said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, under oath in the redistricting trial over the Senate map.

The rare testimony of a sitting senator occurred as the Senate attempts to defend the map it submitted to the court after agreeing in July that the map it produced in 2012 violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution.

The Senate is trying to show that maps proposed by the challengers violate the constitution because they were drawn with the intention of helping Democrats, while the challengers -- a coalition of voter groups led by the League of Women Voters -- are trying to show the Senate maps intentionally favor Republicans.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds will decide who is right and must recommend a map to the Florida Supreme Court for approval that will be used to determine the Senate’s 40 districts for the 2016 elections. He has suggested that he is prepared to pick and choose pieces of the map and “stitch” pieces together on his own.

Because legislators failed to agree to a map during a three-week special session, Galvano submitted a map he had instructed the staff director of the Senate redistricting committee to prepare. Galvano testified that his draft map merged two "base" maps that had been drawn by staff without input from senators. He said he intended to use it as a possible amendment during session, he said, but discarded it after the Senate agreed on a different proposal.

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December 15, 2015

Senate rests its case in redistricting trial, presenting one witness -- who gets roughed up

Baoung Liu

The second day of the Florida redistricting trial ended early Tuesday as the Florida Senate presented a single witness in defense of its redistricting map who withstood a blistering cross examination before the Senate rested its case.

The Senate sole witness was Baodong (Paul) Liu, a professor of political science at the University of Utah, who testified that the Senate's maps were superior because they were more likely to guarantee that minorities could be elected to office.

But in a two-hour cross examination, the lead lawyer for the challengers, David King, attempted to poke holes in Liu's testimony, showing that he failed to include in his report the "functional analysis" that the Florida Supreme Court has ruled is necessary to determine the voting performance of minority districts.
 
King prompted Liu to  concede that he relied on voting patterns in Central Florida to determine the performance patterns of voters in Broward County, and he provoked Liu to acknowledge that he got the results of one election wrong in his report to the court -- claiming that a black candidate for Orange County clerk of court had been defeated when she had won.
 
Liu said he relied on "local people" to provide him with "accurate information" about the results and did not verify it independently.
 
After Liu's testimony, Senate lawyers withdrew a second witness, prompting lawyers to suggest that the weeklong trial could end earlier than the scheduled Friday adjournment. 
 
The focus of Liu's testimony was his review of the state's voting trends, concluding that because of Florida's history of racially polarized voting, the Senate maps proposed by the challengers would likely lead to whites being elected in districts intended for blacks and Hispanics, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution.
 
He concluded that to increase minority voting participation in Florida, districts must be drawn to give the minority the majority of the population. That means that for blacks to be elected in a Senate district, the voting age population must exceed 50 percent, and for Hispanics to be elected, the voting age population must exceed 75 percent.
 
"My conclusion is the state Senate plan is a better plan than the alternative plan,'' based on scientific methods used to study "racially polarized voting in the state," Liu told the court.

But King challenged him to point to an election that proved these conclusions were accurate. Liu could not cite an example but said that was no reason to conclude it wouldn't happen. 

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December 08, 2015

Conspiracy theories, bastards and food fights: another day in the Senate redistricting saga

"Is that a typo on the date?'' asked Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, during depositions in the Senate redistricting trial two weeks ago.

He was being asked to comment on the prospect that Senate President Andy Gardiner and Senate redistricting chair Bill Galvano may have privately selected the map they would submit to court in the pending litigation nearly a month before filing it -- a map they would never bring up for a vote before the Legislature adjourned its special session.

The potential plan came as a surprise to Latvala when lawyers for the redistricting challengers presented him a a memo detailing how Galvano and Gardiner had agreed to submit the map to court Oct. 24, even though they were pushing another map through the legislative process.  If true, it raises questions about the seriousness of the legislative leadership's attempt to reach agreement on a Senate redistricting map during the three-week special session.

Latvala was one of two senators whose depositions were released by the Senate Tuesday as part of the pending redistricting trial scheduled to begin Dec. 14. The other was Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who testified that he believes the map that passed the Senate was handpicked by Galvano, but it was Latvala's inability to get the changes he wanted that led to the ultimate impasse. Download 15-11.25 depo of Lee Lee suggested that both Democrats and other Senate Republicans were involved in Latvala's attempt to influence the maps.

"We were engaged in a legislative leadership battle. Although that battle imploded the moment Senator Latvala couldn't get the maps he wanted over the weekend, he was nonetheless just as frustrated with his Senate president for his refusal to put his thumb on the scale on his behalf. And he took those maps down,'' Lee said under oath. 

Latvala was asked to comment on the memo filed with the court that said that "On October 24, 2015, Senator Galvano directed [staff director Jay] Ferrin to draw the Senate's proposed 12 remedial plan. Mr. Ferrin drew the plan" which merged two previously drawn base maps. Galvano "reviewed the draft plan and approved the plan without further changes,'' the memo continues. "Senate Counsel George Levesque, Raoul Cantero and Jason Zakia reviewed the Senate's proposed remedial plan before its submission to the Court. President Gardiner approved the decision to file the map with the Court."

Senate attorney Jason Zakia said there is no evidence to show the map was drawn with the intention of holding it to submit to court at a later date. But Latvala interjected: "the date of the 24th is the day after the first bill came out of committee, before we had any idea of what the resolution was going to be."

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December 01, 2015

Senate wants to call Braynon and Clemens and LWV's Ellen Freiden as redistricting witnesses

Screen shot 2015-12-01 at 8.50.36 AM

The Florida Senate's lawyers could call Democrat Sens. Oscar Braynon and Jeff Clemens and Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano to the witness stand in the upcoming redistricting trail, adding three senators to the list of seven already proposed by the challengers in documents submitted Monday to the court. 

The Senate's lawyers said it might call Braynon of Miami Gardens and Clemens of Lake Worth as witnesses in the five-day trial that begins Dec. 14 in Leon County Circuit Court. Each had submitted maps they said they had drawn during the redistricting session that ended last month. 

They also said they may call Ellen Freiden, the Miami lawyer for the League of Women Voters whose Fair Districts crusade helped to put the anti-gerrymandering rules into the Florida Constitution, and Galvano, the Bradenton Repubican who headed the Senate's redistricting effort for the last year.

They also said they may call Ellen Freiden, the Miami lawyer for the League of Women Voters whose Fair Districts crusade helped to put the anti-gerrymandering rules into the Florida Constitution.

"Ms. Freidin will testify about alternative maps submitted to the Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court and alternative maps submitted in this case, including the goals, process, and objectives of their creation, and all facts relevant to an intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent in any alternative map,'' the Senate wrote. "Ms. Freidin will also testify about her efforts to influence the legislative redistricting process."

More likely to be called, the witness list said, is a list of experts lined by the Senate, including Stephen Hodge of the Florida Resources and Environmental Analysis Center at Florida State University and an unnamed "corporate representative" for Strategic Telemetry, Massachusetts-based company that hired John O'Neill to help the coalition plaintiffs in the lawsuit draw their proposed maps.

"The Corporate Representative of Strategic Telemetry Inc. will testify about John O’Neill’s participation in the creation of redistricting plans in 2011 and 2012,'' the witness list said. 

November 30, 2015

Private prison health care in doubt as Corizon contract collapses

Corizon

After two years of complaints about healthcare in Florida’s prisons, the private company that has been responsible for the largest share of inmate care — Corizon Health — decided not to renew its $1.1 billion contract with the state Monday, leaving the future of care for 74,000 inmates in limbo when the company pulls out in six months.

The decision by the Tennessee-based company to exercise its right to terminate the contract that was scheduled to expire in 2018 came as the Florida Department of Corrections was attempting to renegotiate the agreement amid reports of inmate maltreatment, chronic understaffing and rising numbers of unnatural inmate deaths. 

"We appreciate the contracts for inmate health services permit very little of the flexibility that Secretary Jones would like in order to address issues such as staffing, mental health care, and electronic health records," Corizon Chief Executive Officer Karey Witty said in a statement. "We have tried to address the department's concerns but have found the terms of the current contract too constraining. At this point, we believe the best way to move forward is to focus our efforts on a successful transition to a new provider."

In February, Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones was ordered to renegotiate the contract by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, after a series of reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations showed suspicious inmate deaths were covered up or never reviewed, staffing was inadequate, and inmate grievances and complaints of harmful medical care were dismissed or ignored.

Audits conducted by the state’s Correctional Medical Authority also found problems with inadequate medical care, nursing and staffing shortages, and hundreds of pending lawsuits against the state and the health care companies claiming inadequate medical care. 

Last year, 346 inmates died in Florida prisons — 176 of them listed with no immediate cause of death. It was the highest number on record, even though the number of inmates in Florida prisons has declined. 

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November 13, 2015

Judge rejects Senate request to hire redistricting expert, orders trial to proceed

Judge ReynoldsLeon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds rejected a request by the Florida Senate to have the court hire a redistricting expert to redraw the Senate maps, saying "we just don't have enough time left" to hire a newcomer and get the boundaries set in time for the 2016 election.

The quick decision after a 30-minute hearing Friday was a blow to the Florida Senate, whose lawyers argued  that by hiring an expert to draw the maps instead of relying on the Legislature or challengers, they could "streamline this litigation and reduce the burden to the parties and Florida’s taxpayers."

"It appears to me we just don't have enough time left to engage in any process, other than the one we are currently on,'' Reynolds said in denying the Senate request. "I do that with some reluctance because I could use all the help that I can get in making this decision.''

He ordered the five-day trial to proceed on Dec. 14-18 and said proposed maps must be submitted to court by next Wednesday. 

If the court had agreed to hire one of the three university professors recommended by the Senate, it would have given the Senate a tactical victory in the bitterly-fought redistricting fight.

Although there were only slight differences between the House and Senate over the final proposed maps, they were significantly different from those offered by the plaintiffs.

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November 12, 2015

Senate asks court to hire redistricting expert to draw map, challengers disagree

Senate map

After months of feuding, the Florida House and Senate reached a redistricting truce on Thursday and asked the court to hire an expert to draw a new map revising the state Senate boundaries instead of conducting a five-day trial next month.

"The appointment of a consultant would streamline this litigation and reduce the burden to the parties and Florida’s taxpayers by eliminating the need for costly discovery and a five-day evidentiary hearing,'' wrote the Senate lawyers to Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds. "It would also eliminate any suspicion that the adopted map was laden with improper intent."  Download Case No. 2012-CA-2842_Senate's Motion for Appointment of a Court-Appointed Consultant to Draw Senate Map (1)

Reynolds had asked the parties to submit a scheduling plan for the Senate redistricting trial by Thursday. But after receiving the call for an expert, Reynolds issued an order saying the trial would move ahead as scheduled, with maps submitted by next Wednesday. There was no mention of what he will do with the Senate's request.  Download Amended Order (1) (1)

The lawyers for the challengers, a coalition led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, were not happy with the Senate's request. They have drawn three proposed Senate maps and expect to present them in court, along with the Legislature's alternatives.

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November 11, 2015

Question now for court: Did Legislature intend to favor GOP in Miami on congressional map?

ParienteThe three-year battle over Florida’s congressional boundaries moved to the state’s highest court Tuesday where lawyers for the Legislature tried to get a trial court map declared unconstitutional but instead found themselves defending the way lawmakers handled two Hispanic districts in Miami-Dade County.

Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, who authored the landmark ruling in July that invalidated Florida’s 27 congressional districts, grilled the attorney for the Florida House for “jumping over” portions of the ruling “as if it didn’t exist.”

“The reason that it was to be redrawn was it was drawn to favor the Republican Party,” Pariente told George Meros, the lawyer for the House.

But when the House redrew Districts 26 and 27 in Miami, “it was redrawn to favor Republicans even more than the original,” she said. “I’m having trouble with the House’s position here.”

Meros countered: “There is no evidence in the record… that these map drawers drew that configuration in order to improve Republican performance,” he said. “They had no idea.”

The Legislature’s handling of Miami districts is at the heart of the dispute over whether the court will accept or reject the map drawn by the challengers, a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters as well as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. Story here. 

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November 10, 2015

Who is manipulating the redistricting process? Both sides take aim

Screen shot 2015-10-30 at 3.10.52 PMWho is to blame for the latest legislative impasse over redistricting?

The finger-pointing began quickly last week as Florida lawmakers adjourned their second special session on redistricting and faced the prospect of another court-ordered map.

Lawmakers blamed the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution as impossible to follow, and House and Senate leaders lashed out at the challengers — a coalition of Democrat-leaning individuals and voter groups led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida — for manipulating the process. This week, the challengers lashed back.

“I don’t believe the plaintiffs want to see a legislatively approved map,” said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting after the House passed its proposed map. “They’re not an honest player in this process.”

Florida lawmakers called the self-imposed special session after ending the lawsuit by the challengers and admitting that the 2012 Senate redistricting maps violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution because they were drawn with partisan political intent.

But when the challengers submitted maps the evening before a vote in the full House or Senate, lawmakers could not consider them, Oliva said. He called it “gamesmanship” that used “the legislative process of the people to manipulate the judicial process of the people.”

David King, the lead lawyer for the coalition, said Monday that it was the Legislature that was manipulating the process.

“The coalition does not consider redistricting a game,” he said in a statement. “It is a very serious effort to ensure that voters can fairly choose their representatives and to stop legislators from rigging districts to favor themselves and their political parties.”

More here.

November 09, 2015

Court to decide which map is 'just right' in congressional redistricting hearing Tuesday


GoldilocksThe Florida Supreme Court is Goldilocks in the redistricting saga that comes before it on Tuesday as lawyers for the House, the Senate and a coalition of voters groups try to persuade the panel in robes that their map is "just right" for the 2016 elections.

They all want the Baby Bear treatment.

The House, which took the Papa Bear approach and adopted a map drawn by staff following rigid rules and no exceptions, will try to say that its map is best. The Senate, which welcomed the input of its members like a more lenient Mama Bear, will say one of its two maps is best. And the junior player in the group -- the coalition of Democrat-leaning voters as well as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause -- wants the court to follow the lead of the lower court and pick its map which blended the maps from lawmakers with a new configuration in South Florida.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis's Oct. 9 ruling adopted the bulk of the House and Senate maps in the northern and central portions of the state but rejected the proposed boundaries for District 26 in Miami-Dade County, now held by Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo, and accepted the configuration drawn by the challengers.

It's uncharted ground for both the court and the parties but the ruling will carry new weight that could influence the outcome of the redistricting trial scheduled for December when the court recommends a state Senate map. It's high stakes for everyone and, unlike Goldilocks, we don't expect the court to be sleeping. 

The map recommended by Lewis throws at least three incumbent congressional candidates in much more competitive districts and Miami Dade, once again is at the heart of the dispute. In addition to Curbelo, the ruling could mean new boundaries for Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and it shuffles the landscape for Congress in the central and northern parts of the state. 

Lewis concluded that he did “not find from the evidence that the staff map drawers had a conscious intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent.” But he said “I remain convinced” the best way to determine if there had been improper partisan intent was to explore the reasons for drawing districts that comply with the other standards, such as geographical compactness.

To that point, he criticized the “very minimalist approach” lawmakers used to rectify the flaws in Miami-Dade’s Districts 26 and 27 as something that “does concern me.”

In its July 9 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to keep the city of Homestead whole, and the Legislature’s solution was to create a district that performed better for Republicans by removing the black communities of Richmond Heights, Palmetto Estates and West Perrine from District 26 into the neighboring District 27, now held by Ros-Lehtinen.

The House and Senate argued that the only way to avoid reducing the ability of Hispanics to elect their own candidate was to leave the district more Republican-leaning as they have proposed. But Lewis rejected that argument, noting that “Hispanics have consistently elected the candidate of their choice” in the region.

He also rejected Florida International University Professor Dario Moreno’s testimony that the district as proposed by the challengers will “lock out” Hispanic voters.

“His testimony was long on pure opinion based on experience and short on systematic, scientific analysis of accepted statistical data,” Lewis wrote.

Meanwhile, we await what the court will do with the Senate maps. A hearing before Judge George Reynolds is scheduled for Tuesday and both sides have accused the other of manipulating the process.

More here.