Sunday, January 21, 2018
Politics

Judge strikes down part of Florida's election laws

TALLAHASSEE — A federal judge on Thursday struck down a key part of Florida's recently revamped election laws, saying the Legislature's restrictions have made it "risky business" for third-party groups to register new voters.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle told the state it cannot require groups to submit voter registration forms within 48 hours or face $1,000 fines. Nor can the state force those groups to disclose names of volunteers who don't collect the forms, Hinkle ruled.

"The short deadline, coupled with substantial penalties for non-compliance, make voter registration drives a risky business," Hinkle wrote. "If the goal is to discourage voter registration drives and thus make it harder for new voters to register, the 48-hour deadline may succeed."

Hinkle's ruling came on the same day the Department of Justice told Florida to cease its search for noncitizen voters.

Hinkle said voter registration activity is protected speech under the First Amendment. His injunction means that groups will have 10 days to submit voter forms, as they did before the law was changed.

The 48-hour requirement is in effect in 62 of Florida's 67 counties, but it remains suspended in five others. That's because any changes in voting laws in those counties must be pre-cleared either by the U.S. Justice Department or a panel of three federal judges in Washington.

The state opted for a three-judge panel, which must weigh Hinkle's decision as it decides whether to pre-clear the 48-hour provision in those five counties: Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry.

The judge's decision is a defeat for the Republican-controlled Legislature that enacted the new restrictions, and Gov. Rick Scott, who signed them into law in 2011. It's a victory for three grass roots groups that brought the lawsuit: Rock the Vote, the Florida Public Interest Group Education Fund and the League of Women Voters of Florida, which suspended all voter registration efforts after the law took effect.

"We are really delighted," said Deirdre MacNab, president of the League of Women Voters. "It knocks out the poor parts of an unreasonable and unconstitutional law. Our volunteers are eager to get back to work."

Those groups and Democrats have accused Republicans of a systematic effort to make it harder for groups to register new voters in Florida in a crucial presidential election year.

The Scott administration said it was pleased with the decision because Hinkle upheld its accountability provisions, which include requirements for groups to register with the state and to disclose which groups signed up which voters.

But Hinkle was critical of the way the state went about enacting administrative rules and said a new state form that warns registration agents that it is a felony to submit false information — even if the agent doesn't know it is false — "is just wrong."

Times staff writer Alexandra Zayas contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
Congressman combating harassment used public money on own case

Congressman combating harassment used public money on own case

WASHINGTON — Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., who has taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment in Congress, used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making un...
Published: 01/20/18
The longer the shutdown lasts, the further the economic ripples will spread

The longer the shutdown lasts, the further the economic ripples will spread

The early days of the federal government shutdown won’t slow the U.S. economy much. No workers are missing paychecks yet, and because it is a weekend, few businesses expect to feel the effects of lost customers or suppliers.That could change, quickly...
Published: 01/20/18
Romano: If UCF is national champion, then I’m a Hollywood stud

Romano: If UCF is national champion, then I’m a Hollywood stud

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said people were entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.Clearly, Moynihan never dealt with Florida legislators.Because around Tallahassee, facts are fungible. They aren’t just up for debate, they...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/20/18
U.S. government shuts down; Democrats, GOP blame each other

U.S. government shuts down; Democrats, GOP blame each other

WASHINGTON — The federal government shut down at the stroke of midnight Friday, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in a striking display of Washington dysfunctio...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/20/18
Battle lines already forming for Menendez corruption retrial

Battle lines already forming for Menendez corruption retrial

NEWARK, N.J. — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez might spend 2018 asking voters to re-elect him and jurors to acquit him. Prosecutors from the Department of Justice told a federal judge in New Jersey on Friday that they will seek a retrial of the Democratic sen...
Published: 01/19/18
Congress likely racing toward a government shutdown

Congress likely racing toward a government shutdown

WASHINGTON — A bitterly-divided Congress hurtled toward a government shutdown this weekend in a partisan stare-down over demands by Democrats for a solution on politically fraught legislation to protect about 700,000 younger immigrants from being dep...
Published: 01/19/18
Clearwater City Council candidate John Funk: City needs better planning

Clearwater City Council candidate John Funk: City needs better planning

CLEARWATER — Voters may not be too familiar with the name John Funk.So since launching his campaign for City Council Seat 5 against well-known incumbent Hoyt Hamilton, Funk said he has knocked on 2,000 doors to introduce himself. Before the March 13 ...
Published: 01/19/18
Clearwater City Council candidate Hoyt Hamilton: Experience is key for critical next term

Clearwater City Council candidate Hoyt Hamilton: Experience is key for critical next term

CLEARWATER — By asking voters to elect him into office a fifth time, Hoyt Hamilton knows he’s now considered part of the old-guard. Born and raised in Clearwater, his family roots stretch back here more than 100 years. Hamilton, 59, spent nearly his ...
Published: 01/19/18

Q&A: Government shutdown looms. Here’s what you need to know

Lawmakers have until midnight tonight to pass legislation to avert a government shutdown.Here’s what that means. Why would the government shut down?Every year, Congress has to approve laws, known as appropriations, that provide money for federal agen...
Published: 01/18/18
Redington Shores mayor, commission positions filled with no opponents

Redington Shores mayor, commission positions filled with no opponents

REDINGTON SHORES — There will be no election this year, but the changeout of commission members that began last year will continue. When the new commission is sworn in this March, four of five members, including the mayor, will have changed within th...
Published: 01/18/18