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Politics / Issues

Redistricting Legislation: Poke In The Eye Or Election Stability?

The Florida Legislature is close to passing new rules on how challenges to district maps would work.
The Florida Legislature is close to passing new rules on how challenges to district maps would work.

New rules on how legal challenges to newly drawn legislative districts would work cleared their first hurdle in the Florida House on Wednesday after the full Senate passed along its version of the same bill.

The rules ( HB 953) would suspend all legal proceedings questioning new maps after candidates qualify for an election. This comes after the redistricting saga in 2015, when the Florida Legislature had to draw new congressional maps. That task turned into rounds and rounds of legal challenges and new map configurations when the courts found that party politics had come into play in drawing new lines.

The proposed legislation would suspend any and all legal challenges 105 days before an election or whenever the candidate qualification period begins, whichever comes later.

The intent, says bill sponsor Rep. Larry Ahern,  R-Seminole, is to allow elections to move forward without a cloud of uncertainty.

“The people deserve more certainty in when and who they will be voting for within their districts,” said Ahern. “This just says to the courts and to those that might bring suit that they need to do so quickly in order to hopefully resolve it.”

But another part of the bill had members of the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee concerned Wednesday about the constitutional separation of powers between the Legislature and the courts.

The bill would subject judges to examination about their role in drawing new maps, as legislators are, points out Ahern.

“It seems to me that this is a little bit of a poke in the eye to the courts for the 2015 actions where they decided to draw the maps,” said Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach. “I’m a little worried that we are going to have a constitutional issue.”

Richardson voted “no” on the bill with hopes he and Ahern could work together to smooth over some of his concerns.

Ultimately, the measure cleared the committee; it has two more committees to go before it will be passed along to the full House. The Senate has already passed a version of the same bill.

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