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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Democrats want legislators to be fined for violating anti-gerrymandering law



Taxpayers shouldn't be the only ones on the hook when legislators violate the state's anti-gerrymandering laws, legislators should pay up too, according to a bill filed Tuesday by two Democratic lawmakers. 

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando and Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg filed legislation that imposes penalties for when legislators violate the Fair Districts provisions of the Florida Constitution. The bills, SB 6-C and HB 3C, would impose penalties up to $5,000 for any violation and require the Legislature to also consider either censure, reprimand or expulsion from the legislature as punishment.

The bill has been filed for the 2015 C Special Session which began Monday.

“I have heard inquiries from countless constituents as to why no penalty exists for violating the Fair Districts Amendments,” Soto said in a statement. “This bill gives assurances to the people that if legislators violate their pledge to uphold the Constitution, real penalties await them.”

Dudley said the legislation was overdue.

“It’s about time we hold the people accountable who have defiantly, flagrantly and maliciously wasted millions of taxpayer dollars in order to perpetuate their own incumbency,'' he said in a statement. "Considering that stealing a piece of bubblegum can result in a sixty-day jail sentence and a $500 fine, we must create commensurate penalties for those who take millions while making a mockery of our democracy."

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the Legislature violated the constitution when it drew the congressional map by favoring incumbents and political parties in violation of the Fair Districts guidelines. It agreed with a lower court that said the process had been "infiltrated" by political operatives, making "a mockery" of the Legislature's claims of transparency.

Legislative leaders then agreed to settle a second lawsuit against them for the Senate map and are in the second day of the special session to redo that proposal. 

At least one Republican is also talking about imposing sanctions against the lawmakers who were in charge when the redistricting schemes were being hatched. 

“$11 million spent, and why has there been no accountability for the leadership that got us into this problem to start it and where are we now – the fourth special session on redistricting,'' asked Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who is at odds with Senate leadership over the legal direction of the Senate redistricting efforts.

“There’s been no accountability and nobody’s slapped anybody’s hands,’’ he said. “I think it’s wrong there’s been no accountability for that. Maybe the Seante ought to be looking at that a little bit more. Why would we admit that we violated the constitution, but not chastise who it was that did it?"

Former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, was chairman of the redistricting committee when the maps were approved in 2012 and remains in the Senate until his term expires in 2016. He told the Herald/Times last week what he said under oath in court -- that he did not violate the Fair Districts law by giving maps to political operatives. 

"I didn't give any maps to any Democrat or Republican political operatives, and I didn't receive any maps from any Republican political operatives," Gaetz said. "No political operative gave me maps and I didn't give any political operative any maps."

He said that testimony that showed that former House chief of staff Kirk Pepper, who now works today for former House Speaker Dean Cannon, delivered draft maps to political operatives and that was "improper." 

Gaetz also said he had two regrets over how he handled the redistricting process. He said the map drawing was too "inclusive" because it allowed members of both parties to have input.

"Obviously, if I had known then what I know now, we would have had a hermetically sealed process and not allowed Democrat or Republican senators to offer criticisms or point out flaws in maps that had been submitted,'' he said.  

Gaetz also said witnesses should have been placed under oath, because witnesses at redistricting hearings around the state were fed phony talking points and prepared testimony from political operatives. It is not common for witnesses at Florida legislative hearings to swear to tell the truth under penalty or perjury.

"The first question would have been, 'Are you presenting testimony that you developed? Is this your work product?'" Gaetz said. "I saw it with my own eyes. I know there were people who testified with extraordinarily partisan testimony who were handed their testimony as they walked in the door. Others were emailed their testimony. They read it off their i-phones."  

Staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

[Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2015 4:41pm]


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