Politics

Special Session on Redistricting Officially Called, Starts Thursday

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: August 5, 2014 3:55 AM
Don Gaetz and Will Weatherford

Don Gaetz and Will Weatherford

On Monday, Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, officially called a special session to redraw congressional districts after a Leon County circuit judge ruled their previous efforts failed to pass constitutional muster. 

Leon County Judge Terry Lewis ordered the Legislature on Friday to draw up new maps by Aug. 15. Last month, Lewis ruled in favor of the League of Women Voters which challenged the congressional districts drawn up by the Legislature in 2012, arguing they did not meet the standards mandated by two state constitutional amendments voters passed in 2010.

In response, the legislative leaders called the Legislature into a special session starting on Thursday with committee meetings scheduled for Friday. Despite the looming primaries some incumbents are facing on Aug. 26, Gaetz and Weatherford told legislators on Monday that they should expect to be in Tallahassee most of next week. The special session is scheduled to end on Friday, Aug. 15.

Gaetz and Weatherford continued to oppose Lewis’ suggestion that a special election could be held after the regular election in November.

“We continue to maintain our strong objection to any attempt to disrupt the current election process,” Gaetz and Weatherford wrote in a memo accompanying the special session deceleration. “Florida’s supervisors of elections have raised serious concerns over changing the elections process at this late date. The NAACP also pointed out in their motion to Judge Lewis that, ‘In a special election, get-out-the-vote infrastructure simply does not exist. Voters who face challenges to political participation – be it financial, job scheduling, transportation, or other impediments – will be irreparably harmed by conducting the election at a time where that infrastructure does not exist.'”

Noting that many ballots have already been sent out for the primary later this month, Gaetz and Weatherford stressed they would look to ensure congressional redistricting did not impact the current elections.

“Tens of thousands of our service men and women overseas have received their ballots, and over 1 million absentee ballots have been mailed to Floridians,” Gaetz and Weatherford noted. “We intend to vigorously defend the integrity and validity of Floridians’ votes that have already been cast, and that will be cast in the upcoming election."

With the special session starting Thursday as the Florida Legislature tries to redraw congressional districts by Aug. 15, much of the work will be done at the committee level.

In the Senate, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, will be leading the select committee on redistricting as chairman. Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, will be the vice chairman. Other members of the committee are Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

On the House side, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, who is scheduled to take over as speaker after the 2016 elections, will be chairing the select committee on redistricting. Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, will be the vice chairman. Other Republicans on the committee are: Rep. Matthew Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland, Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah, Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa.

House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, will take a break from his primary battle against former DCF Secretary George Sheldon -- to see which Democrat challenges Attorney General Pam Bondi in November -- to serve on the committee. Other Democrats on the committee are: Rep. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, and Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami.

With primaries looming later this month, the special session could impact the 2014 election cycle as legislators plan to head up to Tallahassee on Wednesday. While the session is convened, legislators are prohibited by law from fundraising.



Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

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