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Don Gaetz Suggests Residency 'Litmus Test' For All Lawmakers

July 28, 2013 - 6:00pm

The Legislature may be asked to consider imposing stronger residency requirements, amid allegations that a number of sitting lawmakers are loosely following the current rules.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said legislators should have a "litmus test" of sorts regarding residency beyond what is already in state law. But he wants top attorneys for the House and Senate to first recommend what standards are needed.

"This isn't Great Britain where you can just run in a constituency that needs somebody to run. This is Florida in the United States where you're supposed to represent the people you live among," Gaetz said Monday.

State law says each legislator "shall be at least 21 years of age, an elector and resident of the district from which elected and shall have resided in the state for a period of two years prior to election."

However, Senate Ethics and Elections Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has raised questions about a number of Democratic lawmakers claiming residences within the districts they represent, but actually living outside those districts.

Besides directing their top attorneys to recommend standards for residency, Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, stated in a letter to Latvala last week that they have asked Secretary of State Ken Detzner to compile -- by Sept.1 -- a list of where all 160 legislators are registered to vote.

"Getting an answer to those questions was the point of writing the letter," Ryan Duffy, a spokesman for Weatherford, said in an email Monday.

No deadline has been set for the House general counsel and the Senate general counsel to render residency recommendations.

State lawmakers, who tackled high-profile ethics and campaign-finance reform issues during the 2013 session, return to Tallahassee the week of Sept. 23 for the first committee week in advance of the 2014 session.

Latvala has recently expressed concerns about the residency of Democratic Sen. Maria Sachs, as well as Reps. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes, and Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee.

Similar questions were directed at Republican Sen. John Legg during his 2012 Senate campaign after his filing paperwork listed a Trinity address that was outside his then-House district.

Gaetz said because of the questions that have been raised and comments he's received from county supervisors of elections and attorneys, there needs to be "finer" rules in place regarding residency.

"Is it enough that you vote in the district that you represent? Is it enough that your homestead [is] there?" Gaetz asked. "Is it enough that you pay your water bill there, that you get your newspaper there? What are the real tests of residency?"

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