Friday, November 24, 2017

Editorial: In voting district case, legislators should testify


Can Florida legislators be forced to testify to determine what they intended when they redrew district lines and whether they violated a constitutional amendment approved by the voters? That was the difficult question before the Florida Supreme Court on Monday, and several justices sounded skeptical about requiring that legislators provide sworn testimony on their actions during a redistricting process. But in a state with a long, sorry history of gerrymandering and new rules in the state Constitution to prevent it, the court should not let lawmakers hide behind their offices. The public interest in fair elections and upholding the state Constitution outweighs concerns that legislative activity might be chilled by the possibility of being hauled into court.

Three years ago, to end the routine and disgraceful practice of congressional and legislative districts being drawn to favor an incumbent or a political party, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed two constitutional amendments. The Legislature still draws congressional and legislative district maps every 10 years, but now it has to use neutral criteria, such as not slicing up neighborhoods. Lawmakers are barred from drawing districts with the "intent" to help or hurt a particular lawmaker or political party.

Internal emails of both Republicans and Democrats show that during 2012 there were efforts to get the best political outcomes from redistricting. The U.S. House seats and state Senate districts drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature show signs that politics was a significant factor. The districts are being legally challenged by a consortium of groups headed by the Florida League of Women Voters.

The Florida Supreme Court is being asked to referee a technical fight that significantly affects the lawsuit. The League of Women Voters wants to depose lawmakers and their staffs and obtain relevant documents for their court fight. Florida lawmakers claim a broad legislative privilege from having to testify or turn over information on their lawmaking function. They say public officials shouldn't be harassed in court by people who don't like their legislation, and the courts shouldn't be interfering with the job they do, on separation of powers grounds.

A legislative privilege has long been recognized by the courts, and it makes sense in most situations. But in this narrow case an exception is warranted. Florida voters approved the amendments to end the days of Tallahassee power brokers deciding elections by drawing districts to protect themselves and their political parties. Enforcing the constitutional amendments that specifically mention "intent" will require more information about how district lines were drawn through depositions, emails and other key documents. Otherwise how can legislative "intent" be proven?

A trial judge ruled that some legislative discovery was permissible, but that was overturned by a divided three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal. There is no higher public purpose than ensuring fair elections. It is the foundation of our democracy. The court should stand on the side of protecting that interest, even if it means carving out an exception to the concept of legislative privilege.


Editorial: St. Petersburg should revisit approach to historic preservation

St. Petersburg is headed down a slippery path in the name of historic preservation. After a group of 10 property owners in the Old Northeast neighborhood won approval earlier this year to become a one-block historic district, two more groups of neigh...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Editorial: Strengthening the ties that bind in Seminole Heights following 4 killings

During this weekend of giving thanks, let’s recognize the Seminole Heights community for remaining united and committed to their neighborhood as residents cope with the stress and fear following a series of murders. Their response as police continue ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Congress should help Florida agriculture recover from Irma

Editorial: Congress should help Florida agriculture recover from Irma

Florida agriculture took a beating in September from Hurricane Irma, which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses across the citrus, sugar, cattle and dairy industries. Yet despite a personal plea from Gov. Rick Scott, the Trump administrat...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Editorial: Senate should not repeal health insurance mandate to pay for tax cuts

There are all sorts of problems with the massive tax cut legislation the Senate is expected to vote on this week. Wealthy individuals and corporations benefit more than the poor and the middle class; by 2027, about half of all taxpayers would see a t...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Ken Hagan should drop effort to recover attorney’s fees in ethics complaint

Editorial: Ken Hagan should drop effort to recover attorney’s fees in ethics complaint

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan says he’s standing on principle in his effort to collect $7,800 spent defending him against ethics charges that eventually were dismissed.If so, it’s the wrong principle. But Hagan’s strident position rings ...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Another voice: Wall isn’t a lifesaver, it’s a boondoggle

The first stage of President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall project ended last week, while the prospects for any more construction — and even what type of wall — remain uncertain.A Border Patrol agent was killed and his partner seriously wo...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/22/17

Another voice: Time for Republicans to denounce this tax nonsense

Mick Mulvaney, the phony deficit hawk President Donald Trump tapped to oversee the nation’s budget, all but admitted on Sunday that the GOP tax plan currently before the Senate is built on fiction. Senators from whom the public should expect more — s...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

In a state with the nation’s highest portion of residents over 65 years old and more than 80,000 nursing home beds, public records about those facilities should be as accessible as possible. Yet once again, Florida is turning back the clock to the da...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: A time of reckoning on sexual misconduct

Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive out...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: Trump does the right thing for elephants; he shouldn’t back down now

There is bad timing, and then there is this. Last week, an apparent military coup placed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in custody, ushering in a new period of political uncertainty. A few days later, the Trump administration announced that Zimba...
Published: 11/19/17
Updated: 11/22/17