TALLAHASSEE -- Top Florida leaders may soon investigate whether six lawmakers — all but one of them from South Florida — are flouting a state law that requires a legislator to live in the district that he or she represents.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, called for the inquiry in a letter Thursday to Gov. Rick Scott as well as the state’s legislative leaders.
Latvala, who chairs the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, stated he wants a “conclusive finding” into whether the legislators are violating the law. Florida’s Constitution requires legislators to be elected from the district where they live.
“Any violation of these provisions is a compromise of our democratic process and undermines the values that we expect public officers to embody,” wrote Latvala.
Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, said the senator’s letter “raises serious matters.” She said Scott has asked his general counsel to meet with top lawyers in the Legislature to “determine appropriate next steps.”
Latvala in his letter included links to news stories about the six legislators. All are Democrats.
WPLG-ABC 10, a South Florida television station, has done a series of news stories showing legislators at homes outside their districts.
One of those identified by the station is Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach. This past spring Latvala questioned where she lived, but Sachs at the time maintained she met residency requirements.
The television station, however, had footage of her driving and leaving a different home from the one inside her Senate district. Sachs did not respond for comment on Friday.
Another lawmaker cited by Latvala, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, said the senator has the right to ask for an inquiry.
But Thurston added, “I’m confident that I have complied with all the requirements.”
Rep. Joe Gibbons, another of the legislators, contended he has always lived in his district even though his wife lives in Jacksonville.
He acknowledged that he lost his homestead exemption at one time because he briefly rented out his condominium in Hallandale Beach.
But he said he has no problem with an inquiry because he’s done nothing wrong.
“I have always lived in the district and I have since 1996,” Gibbons said.
Messages were left Friday for other legislators cited by Latvala: Reps. Hazelle Rogers, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs. The office of Rep. Ricardo Rangel, D-Kissimmee, released a statement stating that the “representative resides in his district. He’s not sure why he’s involved in this inquiry, but he’s happy to provide any information.”
The Legislature under the Constitution is responsible for being the “sole judge” of the qualifications of its members.