Legislators to return Thursday in special session to revise election districts

Florida legislative leaders hope to fix the flawed congressional map in a special session beginning this week.

08/04/2014 6:26 AM

08/04/2014 6:48 AM

Florida legislative leaders announced Sunday that they will bring lawmakers back for a weeklong special session on Thursday to revise the congressional redistricting map declared invalid by a judge.

Leon County Circuit 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 to their campaigning. Lawmakers may not raise campaign money while the Legislature is in session.

Lewis also said he was considering calling a special election after the Nov. 4 general election for the affected districts, and called for an Aug. 20 hearing to allow lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case, a group of voting organizations, and the defendants, the GOP-led Legislature, to present their arguments on what the court should decide.

House Speaker Will Weatherford said in a statement to members late Sunday that legislative leaders “continue to maintain our strong objection to any attempt to disrupt the current election process.”

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

In an email late Friday to Senate members and staffers, 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 the districts.

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.”

House deputy general counsel Steve Godwin sent a similar email late Friday with the same directions to House members and staffers. House members were informed in an email from House chief of staff Kathy Mears on Sunday that they would 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 influence and manipulate the Legislature into violation of its constitutional duty” under the state constitution’s Fair District amendments.

There was no indication Sunday whether political consultants or the public would be allowed to provide input into the redistricting session this time.

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