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Senate redistricting bill clears last review panel

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

A bill aimed at streamlining the handling of political redistricting court cases cleared its last committee Thursday.

The legislation (SB 352) was OK’d by the Senate Rules Committee on a 7-3 party-line vote. It’s now ready for the full Senate.

It also “encourages” courts “to follow certain procedures to maintain public oversight when drafting a remedial redistricting plan,” the bill’s analysis says.

That’s because bill sponsor Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican, was concerned that previous redistricting cases were decided “behind closed doors, outside of the public eye” by judges, he said.

“We need more transparency,” Hutson told the committee.

To that end, according to the analysis, his bill asks judges—but does not require them—to:

— Conduct public hearings involving proposed district configurations.

— Record and maintain minutes of meetings on the plan if the meetings are closed to the public.

— Provide a method for the public to submit and comment on additional maps.

— Offer the public an opportunity to review and comment on any map before a plan is finalized.

— Maintain all e-mails and documents related to the creation of the remedial plan.

But opponents, including The League of Women Voters of Florida, raised concerns about separation of powers. Ben Wilcox, research director for Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based ethics watchdog, called the bill a “solution in search of a problem.”

The bill is a response to court challenges over the state’s redrawn districts after the 2010 Census.

“The Florida Supreme Court issued eight separate apportionment opinions, the trial court issued additional opinions, and litigation spanned nearly 4 years in the state courts,” the analysis said.

“The litigation often proved confusing to candidates hoping to qualify and run for office because the candidates were uncertain where the district boundaries were located,” it added.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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