House Redistricting Committee Chairman Jose Oliva has rejected a request from Senate Democrats to review the guidelines for the maps being produced by House and Senate staff and also won't let them see the drafts of the maps as they are produced.
"I believe it is imperative that we maintain an isolated environment for drawing the base maps,'' Oliva wrote in a letter to Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner on Tuesday, who said that he has "not viewed a single district line.
"While I am glad to provide you with the information you are seeking, I believe it is imperative that you receive it when it is released to all members of the House and Senate and to the public," he wrote. Download Oliva response to Joyner
Joyner of Tampa, last week asked Oliva and Senate redistricting chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, to allow the public "real time" access into the behind-the-scenes process of map drawing being conducted by House and Senate staff in preparation for the special session on Senate redistricting which begins on Monday.
"This will allow the members of the Senate – as well as the public – to assess the credibility of the process in real time," she wrote.
Galvano and Oliva privately agreed to guidelines and to “draw multiple base maps using different methodologies" and agreed that "all meetings of the map drawers and their work on the base map, including meetings where they are advised by counsel, be recorded.”
Joyner, using funds from the Florida Democratic Party, hired lawyer Mark Herron and asked that he be allowed in to the map-drawing process but Senate President Andy Gardiner refused. She then asked to get access to the "recordings of any meetings between counsel for the Senate and the House of Representatives at which these methodologies were discussed as well as recordings of any meetings between counsel and the map drawers and/or any member of the Senate or House of Representatives at which these methodologies have been discussed."
Oliva. R-Miami Lakes, did not directly address Joyner's request but suggested that because Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, in his order on the Congressional map, concluded that the Legislature's procedure had guarded against improper partisan intent then they are doing the same by following the same process this time.
"Given the direction the House received from Speaker Crisafulli, the extraordinary burden the Court has placed on the Legislature to prove a complete absence of partisan intent, and the positive findings by Judge Lewis on our remedial process, I do not see any other appropriate course of action than to remain faithful to the process that is underway at this time,'' Oliva wrote.
Unlike the congressional map, however, the Legislature does not have a set of guidelines to follow from the Florida Supreme Court when drawing its Senate map.
In the face of a legal challenge in which a coalition of voter groups were alleging that legislators conspired to allow political operatives access to their redistricting maps in an attempt to draw them to favor Republicans, the Senate agreed to settle its lawsuit and stipulated in July that the Senate map it drew in 2012 violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution.
Lawmakers set Oct. 19 as the date of a three-week special session to redraw the map and House and Senate leaders have ordered staff to produce several "base maps" to serve as a starting point for discussion while receiving input only from the House and Senate lawyers, not legislators.
Joyner argued that Democrats, and the public, should allowed access to the process because the lawyers hired by the GOP-led House and Senate have "an inherent conflict because they drew the maps to favor Republicans," then defended the maps in court and, ultimately, agreed the maps violated the Constitution.