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FLORIDA SUPREME COURT RULING

FLORIDA SUPREME COURT RULING

Sunshine
In Lakeland
District
Two substantial events took place in Tallahassee on Friday: completion of the Florida
Legislature’s annual 60-day session — scheduled two months early this year to provide time for
the Florida Supreme Court to rule on new voting districts drawn by the Legislature for the state
House and Senate, and the U.S. House — and the court’s ruling itself.
The ruling is the first under the Fair Districts amendments to the constitution, approved
by voters in 2010. Those amendments aim to eliminate politics from reapportionment decisions
— the drawing of new Florida districts every 10 years, two years after a decade’s new national
census is taken.
Today starts another important event for Floridians with an interest in state, regional
and local government: Sunshine Week.
Florida is famous for its open government: government in the sunshine, which refers to
the requirement that meetings of elected and appointed boards such as county commissions be
open to the public, and public records, which refer to the requirement that many records kept by
the state, counties, cities, courts and other governmental agencies be open to the public.
However, in every year’s legislative session, numerous attempts are made to block the
sunshine, particularly to exempt records from the Public Records Law. Too many of those efforts
succeed. A few attempts are made to reverse exemptions or to open up government. Too few of
those efforts succeed.

REPRESENTATION FOR OPENNESS
Open government starts with fair representation.
For Lakeland, the Florida Senate drew new Senate districts that split the city in half.
The constitution, as a result of Fair Districts, says “districts shall, where feasible, utilize existing
political and geographical boundaries.” Because its political boundary was breached during the
redistricting process by putting half the city in one Senate district and the other half in a second
Senate district, Lakeland filed a brief in connection with the Supreme Court’s review of the
Legislature’s new maps.
Beyond Lakeland, the court ruled that eight of the 40 Senate districts do not meet the
constitution’s requirements, particularly against protecting incumbents.
The court did not rule the dual Lakeland districts unconstitutional, although it spoke at
length about those districts. It said the Senate should review the Lakeland districts and obtain
additional information to use in redrawing the Senate map. The court approved the state and
federal House districts drawn by the Florida House of Representatives.
Lakeland City Attorney Tim McCausland and the City Commission deserve credit for
recognizing that two Senate districts would dilute the representation of the Lakeland residents.
Two districts would make the Senate less open than one tightly focused on the city.
Wednesday, the Senate is scheduled to return to Tallahassee for a special session to
redraw its map. It will be expected to use the court’s ruling a guide.
The ruling said splitting a city won’t always be invalid, adding “the constitutional
directive is only that ‘existing political and geographical boundaries’ should be used ‘where
feasible.’ ”

INCONSISTENCY
The Senate numbered the two Lakeland districts 24 and 16. The court said: “The Senate
failed to adhere to any consistent definition of political and geographical boundary. This is
especially evident because, in the case of District 24, the Senate placed part of inland Lakeland
with the coastal communities of Manatee County.”

A conversation between Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-
Niceville, was quoted by the court, with Gaetz saying: “at this point any change to this part of the
region would have ripple [effects] throughout the entire area and in the bordering districts, and
we believe that this arrangement that is in the proposal represented the best reconciliation of
priorities.”
The court said “we conclude that, when the Senate drew this portion of the plan, it did so
with an incorrect understanding of both compactness, and utilizing political and geographical
boundaries.”
Let the sun shine as brightly in the Senate for Lakeland residents as for other Floridians.

 

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