Redistricting group calls Fla. hearings 'charade'

BY BILL KACZOR | Associated Press | 06/14/2011

Upcoming public hearings across Florida on legislative and congressional redistricting are a "charade" because lawmakers have yet to draw up any proposed maps that citizens can comment upon, a coalition dedicated to preventing gerrymandering declared Tuesday.
Fair Districts Now held a teleconference with reporters and sent a letter urging leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature to include maps at the hearings. It also asked them to speed up the redistricting process so a review by the U.S. Justice Department and likely court appeals can be completed before candidates begin qualifying a year from now.

"Show us the maps," said Jorge Mursuli, president of Domocracia, a Hispanic advocacy group that's part of the coalition. "Where are these maps?"

The House and Senate are holding hearings in 26 cities and towns starting Monday in Tallahassee and continuing through Sept. 1 in Clewiston. Without maps, they are a waste of time, Fair Districts leaders said.

"Some might call the planned hearings a 'charade' at taxpayer expense," said Florida League of Women Voters President Deidre Macnab.

Other groups participating in Fair Districts are Common Cause and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The coalition's letter also asks legislative leaders to lift a "gag order" they've put on lawmakers for the hearings and to stop using taxpayer money to challenge a pair of state constitutional amendments sponsored by Fair Districts Now.

Voters last year approved the amendments, one each for Congress and the Legislature, that prohibit districts from being drawn to favor incumbents or any particular political party. Both chambers tried to keep the amendments off the ballot and the House has joined two members of Congress in a still-pending challenge of the congressional amendment.

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, responded through a statement reiterating a prior challenge to Fair Districts to submit its own maps "so everybody can see their concept of a 'fair district.'"

That's lawmakers' responsibility for which they are drawing paychecks from taxpayers, said Macnab.

"We call upon them to do their job," she said.

Katherine Betta, spokeswoman for House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said it would be inappropriate for lawmakers to draw maps before hearing from the public.

"There is no gag order," Betta wrote in an email. "These meetings are about listening to the public."

Fair Districts leaders cited a letter from Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to his colleagues saying leaders of both chambers have agreed lawmakers "will not be recognized for comments or discussion or even for questions" at the hearings.

Former Democratic state Sen. Dan Gelber, now an attorney for Fair Districts, suggested legislators may be "lawyering up" - avoiding comments that could be used against them if the redistricting maps are challenged in court as expected.

As for hastening the process, House Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said lawmakers are following "a timeline set in the Florida Constitution" and the availability of Census data and technology as well was putting public comment first.

Gelber, though, said the constitution has no timeline for congressional districts so they could be drawn immediately and other states already have done so. Legislative maps could be approved shortly after lawmakers convene in regular session in January, but they appear intend on waiting until its last days in early March, he said.



Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/06/14/v-print/2266405/redistricting-group-calls-fla.html#ixzz1PLn3o1D2


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