Glimmer of hope appears for virtual public hearings on Florida’s redistricting

‘I can assure members that those conversations are continuing’

By: and - October 13, 2021 4:46 pm

Florida’s Old Capitol seen through the colonade of the New Capitol. Credit: Michael Moline

Might the Republicans running the Florida Legislature’s redistricting committees budge on Democrats’ requests to let the public speak online about drawing their future voting districts?

The effort would utilize Zoom or similar online platforms around the state.

House redistricting chairman Tom Leek of Volusia County didn’t bother to respond when asked that question during a hearing of the full reapportioning committee on Tuesday.

But Wednesday, Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Brevard Republican who chairs the subcommittee on congressional redistricting, said the idea has not been definitively ruled out.

“As far as public input goes, I can assure members that those conversations are continuing,” he said during hearings.

Still, Rep. Cord Byrd, a Republican from Duval and Nassau counties who presides over the subcommittee on state House and Senate district lines, was noncommittal when asked about the matter by Rep. Dan Daley of Broward County, the ranking Democrat on that panel.

“We’ll be certain to pass those on, and people above my pay grade will answer those questions for all of us,” Byrd said.

The matter has become a bone of contention because both House and Senate Republican leaders have made no provision for receiving live public comment from around the state on redistricting maps being proposed as part of the process. The only provisions are for written comments to be submitted through or for testimony to be given in person during hearings in the Capitol.

The House and Senate have set up a webpage on which anyone can propose new district maps, but there will be no repeat of the protocols the Legislature adopted during the last redistricting 10 years ago, when it staged public hearings around the state.

The Legislature has been slow to take up redistricting, in part because COVID delayed the arrival of the new census numbers that undergird the process.

If remote, online hearings are not held, people will have to “schlep all the way up to Tallahassee” to give live testimony, Daley said. He suggested using Zoom or other conferencing platforms that the public have grown used to using during the COVID pandemic.

“I can’t imagine it would be very difficult to find one location, one municipally owned building in every part of the state where someone who doesn’t have access to the Internet for whatever reason could go” to participate in hearings, Daley said.

“That gives us the opportunity to take in that input and that engagement without having to the physical tour that we did 10 years ago,” he said.

“As we move forward, I think this is an issue that the public cares deeply about,” said Rep. Kelly Skidmore of of Palm Beach County, ranking Democrat on the congressional panel.

“And so, we would request that, using the technology that is available to us, create opportunities for people to participate and potentially access points and libraries for those who don’t have the ability to participate fully because they don’t have the equipment or the access.”

Sirois told Skidmore: “I know those discussions are ongoing. So, I hope to have some more information to provide you at our next committee meeting.”

There’s another twist: The leadership so far has scheduled meetings of its two subcommittees at the same time in different parts of the Capitol — exactly what happened Wednesday. It means people who hope to influence both legislative and congressional redistricting had to be two places at once.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.

Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.