The Phoenix Flyer

Senate still mum on whether to hold public hearings in drawing new voting districts

By: - October 11, 2021 7:22 pm

At the Leon County Courthouse, 2020 voters could vote early in person or by dropping their ballots in a drop box. Credit: Diane Rado

Despite calls for public hearings on redistricting, the Florida Senate still has not announced whether it will host any events to hear citizen recommendations on drawing new legislative and congressional voting districts for 2022 and the rest of the decade.

On Monday, during the second meeting of the Senate Committee on Reapportionment, Chairman Ray Rodrigues, a Lee County Republican, reiterated his prior statements that there is no legal requirement to host public hearings and that there may be no practical reason, either.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, the Fair Districts Coalition, and several Democratic members of the GOP-controlled legislative redistricting committees have said public hearings are vital for creating fair voting districts that neither favor nor disfavor any political party, incumbent, candidate, or like-minded group of voters.

In testimony Monday, League President Cecile Scoon, an attorney, pressed the point, saying many Floridians have something to say but cannot easily travel to the state capital to say it.

“We strongly believe in the hearing process. Why? Because so many people are not going to be able to drive, take off work and stay in Tallahassee, and do that [from] across this massive, beautiful state that we have,” Scoon said.

“You also want to encourage people to believe in the system and to feel like they’re heard,” she said, “and there’s nothing like having a conversation to actually give that impression.”

Rodrigues did not address those arguments, but said again that legislators are not required to hold public hearings and he questioned whether they would yield useful information.

“If you go back and look at what we received in public input during those tours over the last two redistricting cycles, it was primarily the public letting the Legislature know these are the ‘communities of interest’ that we want you to keep together,” Rodrigues said.

Now, what I raised was the question: Now that Fair Districts has passed, and the court made clear in the 2012 litigation that the Fair Districts Coalition brought forth that the Legislature can’t consider communities of interest because it is not in the objective standards spelled out in the Fair Districts Amendments, that does beg the question of whether we need to have a traveling road show to receive that information if we can’t use it once we have it.”

That reflects what he told reporters on Sept. 20, according to a transcript: “Given that the key piece of information that we received from those road shows is no longer applicable to the drawing of the districts, my personal position is, I’m not sure we should expend the time to do that.”

At Monday’s hearing, Scoon persisted: “Would you agree with me that communities of interest also include racial and language minorities?”

Rodrigues did not agree, saying, “I don’t believe that’s traditionally how it’s defined.” He then asked Scoon to offer her comments without asking questions, and he offered to have a meeting with her to discuss matters further.

Rodrigues said legislative leaders may decide this week, or maybe next week, about whether to host any kind of public hearings. Monday’s session was largely an education and orientation session for the redistricting committee members.

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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. Contact her at [email protected]