A Senate committee gave unanimous approval Wednesday to new residency standards for lawmakers, paving the way for the measure to pass the full chamber on the first day of the upcoming legislative session.
The residency standards (SCR 954) approved by the Senate Rules Committee are aimed at clarifying the meaning of a constitutional requirement that legislators live in their districts.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has waged a campaign to draw attention to accusations that some Democratic lawmakers -- including Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, who in 2012 defeated one of Latvala's supporters in his race for the Senate presidency -- don't live in their districts. Sachs denies the allegations.
Senate Rules Committee Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said the ability to punish members would still lie with the Legislature. The measure approved Wednesday would make it clear to lawmakers what counts as an official residence.
"This is really for guidance of the members," Thrasher said. "But there is a mechanism there, if the Legislature finds that somebody has violated the rule, to remove them from office, ultimately."
Latvala applauded the measure, which he said was "not perfect" but is an improvement.
"I think that this will go a long way in giving some guidance to members of the Legislature on how they're supposed to conduct themselves and where they're supposed to live and how to determine where their real residence is, for anybody that has a hard time figuring that out," he said.
Under the bill, lawmakers' residencies could be determined by a list of 13 factors, including where they are registered to vote, where they claim a homestead exemption, and which address was listed on their driver's licenses. Each lawmaker would have to file paperwork after every election saying that he or she lives in the right district.
Similar legislation is set to be considered Thursday by the House Rules and Calendar Committee. Both chambers hope to pass the joint rule on March 4, the opening day of the 2014 session.
Latvala, who is engaged in a battle for the Senate presidency in the legislative term following the 2016 elections, has been hammering the residency issue for months.
Sachs, one of Latvala's main targets, has faced questions because the home she and her husband own is outside the District 34 boundaries. Sachs at one time claimed to live in a Fort Lauderdale condo owned by a friend but earlier this year changed her voter registration to a condominium in Delray Beach.
Sachs says her residency has been established by state reviews.