Florida Legislature discarded records related to redistricting

Feb 6, 2014

New court findings reveal that the Florida State Legislature threw away records related to drawing up new districts, something that happens once in a decade.

The House Speaker said that there was nothing wrong about doing that, and he said that the Legislature was just following rules already in place that allow for the disposal of records if they are no longer required.

However, the act drew sharp criticism from individuals and groups who are challenging the new districts in court. Those groups have been pursuing additional records about the reasons why legislators drew the districts as they did.

The president of an organization for women voters said that she was in near disbelief that the documents had been thrown away.

She said that learning that they destroyed crucial records was incredibly disappointing.

The latest court filings show that lawyers representing the Legislature said that redistricting records were at times, and appropriately, discarded, and that it was allowed under existing rules. The filing went on to say that the lawyers were not sure about which of the documents were thrown away.

Florida has a very broad public records law, but the state Legislature has the authority to create its own rules regarding which public records they want to retain.

The House Speaker said in a public statement that any allegation that the House subverted the law and discarded documents is entirely false.

He went on to say that they not only complied with the public record laws and House rules, but also exceeded those standards with the issue of redistricting. He said that the opponents in the case received thousands and thousands of documents and that they should know a lot better.

Once every decade, lawmakers redraw congressional and legislative districts based on new population date. Voters in 2010 were clear that legislators should draw districts based on current political and geographic boundaries and not in some kind of ploy to aid incumbents or a member of a certain political party.

Once the “Fair Districts” amendments were passed, legislators adopted maps that led to more Democrats getting elected. However, critics say the final districts still do not accurately reflect the political divide in Florida.

Lawsuits have been filed that challenged state senate and congressional districts. The groups suing have asked for records and the ability to make legislators and legislative staff testify. The state Supreme Court said last week that legislators cannot be forced to testify in a lawsuit, and they set aside a long-standing privilege that legislators typically enjoy.

The lawsuit has already brought a certain document to light. The revelation of this document has raised some eyebrows. It shows that top GOP officials met in the latter part of 2010 to brainstorm redistricting with some legislative staffers and political consultants.

Legislative lawyers have shot back with their own ammunition, however. They have unearthed emails that show that “Fair Districts” supporters worked on a map where the ulterior motive was to increase Democratic seats.