Courtesy of The Miami Herald
July 24, 2015
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida legislators announced Monday
they will convene a 12-day special session starting August 10 to comply
with a court order to revise the state’s congressional districts and
will take some extraordinary measures to make sure staffers draw an
initial base map without consulting anyone but lawyers.
The unusual process is a response to the unprecedented situation in
which legislators find themselves after the Florida Supreme Court ruled
5-2 to invalidate the state’s congressional map because it was “tainted
with unconstitutional intent to favor the Republicans and incumbents.”
Now, after spending $8.1 million defending their flawed map in court,
the burden of proof shifts to lawmakers to prove that they are following
the law. To do that, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President
Andy Gardiner have ordered legislators to compile all documents and
communications related to drawing the new congressional districts,
forward them daily to a specially-created email account, and prohibited
those who are drafting the new map from talking about it.
For example, the House and Senate redistricting staff is ordered to have
“no interactions with any member of the Legislature, a member’s staff or
aide, political consultants or others concerning their work on the base
map prior to its public release,” the officers wrote in a three-page
memo to legislators Monday.
What’s more, staff is ordered not to have any interactions “with any
member of Congress” or their staff and consultants, and no contact with
any political party. If any legislators attempt to talk to staff about
drawing a map that favors a party or incumbent, staff is ordered to
ignore the communication and report the lawmakers.
“While every citizen of Florida has a guaranteed constitutional right to
petition their government, we encourage members to be circumspect and to
avoid all communications that reflect or might be construed to reflect
an intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent,’’
Crisafulli and Gardiner wrote in the memo.
They set the special session for Aug. 10-21 and assigned Rep. Jose Oliva,
R-Miami, to chair the House redistricting committee and Sen. Bill
Galvano, R-Bradenton, to chair the Senate panel.
The court ruled that Republican operatives had conducted a “shadow
redistricting process” and infiltrated the map-drawing when lawmakers
first drew the congressional boundaries in 2012. The court then gave
legislators until Oct. 17 to revise eight of the state’s 27 districts,
including those held by Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo
and Mario Diaz Balart.
Some of the guidelines are similar to those offered by Rep. Jose Javier
Rodriguez, D-Miami, who asked lawmakers to write new rules to apply to
their redistricting deliberations so that they would create enough of a
record of their decision-making process to justify their maps in court.
“It’s certainly a step in the right direction if we’re trying to restore
some confidence in the process,” he said. “But I think how it’s
implemented will really tell us if there really can be a single process
and a public process, or a shadow process. Any system can be subverted.
This is certainly good if we comply with this.”
Under the guidelines set by Crisafulli and Gardiner, the House and
Senate redistricting staff will “work collaboratively with legal counsel
to develop a base map that complies with the Florida Supreme Court’s
Both chambers are also banning their lawyers from discussions with
legislators, members of Congress members, political operatives and party
officials, and the House is waiving its attorney-client privilege to do
so, spokesmen said..
If any legislators “suggests to staff that a plan be changed with the
intent to favor or disfavor any incumbent or political party” staff is
told to “disregard the suggestion entirely and report in writing the
conversation directly to the Speaker or the President, respectively.”
In addition, the officers ordered that before the session convenes on
Aug. 10, the map will be “provided simultaneously to all members and the
public,”’ the officers wrote. The base map will be unveiled before
session, and explained by staff in a public meeting. After that,
legislators will have “a full opportunity to review, discuss, debate and
offer amendments to the base map,” the officers said.
Left out of the special session will be any discussion of the Senate
map, which is also being challenged in district court in Leon County.
Legislators must defend that map and, if it is rejected, will likely
face another special session in the future.