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Sorting out the truth in politics

PolitiFact Florida: Redistricting talk isn't always truthful

Lawmakers continue their carnival-style tour of Florida this week, talking to voters about the difficult and controversial task of redrawing the state's legislative and congressional districts.

But during those redistricting hearings — which include a stop Tuesday in Wesley Chapel — are your elected officials always telling it straight?

Readers asked us to look into a recent exchange between a voter and state Sen. Alan Hays, a Republican from Central Florida.

The setting: the Villages, a massive planned community about an hour northwest of Orlando.

The topic: A lawsuit seeking to toss out an amendment to the state Constitution approved by voters in 2010 that supporters say takes politics out of the redistricting process.

The voter asked Hays if he voted to spend taxpayer dollars to try to strike down the amendment in court.

"Some of you people had voted to tax or to spend our taxes against the amendments that were passed by 63 percent of the vote," the man said. "I wonder if you, Sen. Hays, since I'm in your district, did you vote?"

"Did I vote for what?" Hays asked.

"These taxes being paid for the suit against the amendments?" the man asked.

"No, I did not vote to spend money to fight that lawsuit," Hays responded later in the meeting. "The disappointing part of this whole thing, folks, is the misinformation that is out there. The Florida Legislature has not filed a lawsuit to fight Amendments 5 and 6. The Amendment 6 lawsuit was filed by one Republican congressman and one Democratic congresswoman. The Florida House chose to go, and what's the term? An intervenor? … in seeking clarification. The Florida House intervened.

"But your tax dollars are not being used to sue you, the people who voted the 63 percent. Believe me. I don't know where you got your information but it's incorrect. So no, I did not vote to waste that money."

Hays tried to reassure the audience by making several matter-of-fact claims and claiming "misinformation."

We decided to check three statements that stood out:

• "No, I did not vote to spend money to fight that lawsuit" — referring to a lawsuit challenging Amendment 6.

• "The Florida Legislature has not filed a lawsuit to fight Amendments 5 and 6."

• "Your tax dollars are not being used to sue you, the people who voted the 63 percent" in favor of Amendment 6.

Some background: As Hays said, two members of Florida's congressional delegation — Democrat Corrine Brown and Republican Mario Diaz-Balart — are challenging Amendment 6, arguing that they believe the changes will reverse gains in minority representation.

Brown and Diaz-Balart filed their lawsuit in U.S. District Court in southern Florida on Nov. 3, 2010, arguing that Florida voters can't change the standards for congressional district-drawing because the issue is governed by the U.S. Constitution, not the Florida Constitution.

On Jan. 14, the Florida House filed a motion seeking to join the Brown/Diaz-Balart lawsuit, which was ultimately granted.

The state Senate, however, did not join the lawsuit, which will be heard July 29 in Miami.

Because the Senate did not join the lawsuit, Hays is right on his first point —that he "did not vote to spend money to fight that lawsuit." The Senate isn't party to the lawsuit, meaning no Senate money has been earmarked for it.

So that's an easy True on the Truth-O-Meter.

But Hays falls short on the other two points of his statement.

The Legislature didn't technically file a lawsuit challenging Amendment 6, but the House has joined the suit as what's called a plaintiff intervenor.

Legal experts we talked to said that means the House's goal — like Diaz-Balart and Brown's — is to have the amendment thrown out. That's more than the "seeking clarification" Hays said.

The difference between the original plaintiff and the intervenor is "utterly technical" once the intervenor is allowed to join, said Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami. "For example, if the original plaintiff were to pull out, the intervenor would have a right to continue the suit. When they are both in, both have the same rights as each other."

So, we rated the claim that the "Legislature has not filed a lawsuit to fight Amendments 5 and 6" Barely True.

And since the Legislature is indeed fighting to have Amendment 6 tossed aside, it is obviously spending taxpayer resources to do so — unlike what Hays said.

The Florida House has spent about $700,000 on legal fees associated with the entire redistricting process, about half of which has been directed to the lawsuit against Amendment 6, said House spokeswoman Katie Betta.

On top of that, the Florida Secretary of State — which is defending the amendment in court — has spent $60,000 so far on the case.

So not only are tax dollars being used by the House to try to strike down Amendment 6, but the Secretary of State is charging taxpayers to defend the amendment in court — which makes Hays' claim False.

Read the full fact-checks at www.politifact.com/florida.

The statement

"I did not vote to spend money to fight that (Amendment 6 redistricting) lawsuit."

State Sen. Alan Hays, in a July 13 public hearing about redistricting

The ruling

The Senate is not part of the lawsuit challenging Amendment 6, so there was no vote. We rate this statement True.

The statement

"The Florida Legislature has not filed a lawsuit to fight Amendments 5 and 6."

State Sen. Alan Hays, in a July 13 public hearing about redistricting

The ruling

The House is a plaintiff in the suit seeking to toss out Amendment 6, but it wasn't the original plaintiff. We rate this statement Barely True.

The statement

"Your tax dollars are not being used to sue you, the people."

State Sen. Alan Hays, in a July 13 public hearing about redistricting

The ruling

The House has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting Amendment 6 in court, and the Secretary of State has spent about $60,000 defending it. We rate this statement False.

PolitiFact Florida: Redistricting talk isn't always truthful 07/24/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 24, 2011 11:32pm]
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