With more than 70 bills on the calendar when it convened, the House kicked off the last week of the legislative session by meeting all day Monday and focused on redistricting measures that Floridians will vote on in November.
The House voted to add a new constitutional amendment measure on redistricting, joining two other measures already on the ballot. Introduced by Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, the amendment would have the state follow existing federal guidelines when creating new congressional and legislative districts. The measure passed on a 74-42 vote.
The new proposed constitutional amendment joins two other proposals already on the ballot.
Fair Districts Florida led petitioning efforts to place two amendments on the November ballot. The proposed Fair Districts amendments require legislators to create geographically compact districts when redrawing congressional and state legislative districts. The proposed Fair Districts amendments also prohibit the Legislature from creating districts that favor certain incumbents or political parties.
Joined by some Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-FL, who was on the floor during debate on the clarifying amendment, and Democratic Senate Leader Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, Republicans in both the House and Senate have been very critical of the Fair Districts amendments.
In debate Monday, Democrats argued that the Republicans were attempting to gut the amendments that Floridians had already placed on the ballot and that the House leadership was arrogantly ignoring the will of the people of Florida.
This resolution seeks to weaken the will of the people, said Rep. Ronald Brise, D-North Miami, noting that 1.7 million Floridians signed the Fair Districts petitions.
This is about incumbency protection and preserving the status quo, said Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach.
Republicans countered that the clarifying measures would help ensure minority representation.
Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, argued that the Fair Districts amendments would not help minority voters. Referring to the redistricting process after 1990 and 2000, Fresen noted that African-Americans and Hispanics had made considerable gains under the federal guidelines and that the Fair District amendments threatened minority representation without the clarifying measures.
Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, asked the House to look at a map of Florida and see how many minority-majority districts they could create using the Fair District amendments as they are now. You might have one or two but nothing like what we have now, said Proctor.
Republicans, led by Hukill and Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, questioned whether or not Fair Districts Florida was actually a grassroots effort, pointing out that the organization received heavy financial backing from special interest groups, including controversial activist group ACORN.
Responding to comments from Democrats accusing the Republicans of being arrogant and ignoring the will of the people, incoming Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said it was proponents of the Fair Districts amendments who were acting arrogant in thinking that the measures had already passed.
The House also passed a measure to open the 2012 session in January to tackle redistricting.
A measure that would reform the time period between an arrest and a trial introduced by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, passed on a vote of 70 to 41 but will not go into effect. The proposal would have shifted that period between arrest and a trial from 60 to 90 days for misdemeanors; 120 to 180 days for felonies; 190 to 275 days for life felonies; and 275 to 365 days for capital felonies.
When someone walks on a technicality, justice is not served, said Eisnaugle who stressed in his closing remarks how tough it was to get 80 votes in the House.
While the House passed the measure, the measure needed 2/3 of the vote to take effect since the bill affects the courts. By that standard, it will not be enacted.
The House passed other measures with little to no debate on various topics including creating new license plates, eliminating the Statewide Intermodal Transportation Advisory Council, which has not met since 2004, and reforming career education classes for middle school students.
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