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Special Session On Redistricting Begins Thursday

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Florida lawmakers are gearing up for a little overtime. The Legislature kicks off a special session on Thursday, to redraw congressional districts.

The memo was issued Sunday by Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford. It came two days after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ordered lawmakers to redraw the districts of Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Republican Congressman Dan Webster of Orlando, and submit a map to him by Aug. 15.  Gaetz – a Republican from Niceville -- says that’s not an unreasonable deadline.

“I think that it’s obvious when you look at (Lewis’) ruling, the two districts he wants fixed, how he wants them fixed and why he wants them fixed,” said Gaetz. “And he held intact 25 of the 27 congressional districts.”

Gaetz and Weatherford will gavel in the Senate and House at noon Thursday Eastern time, then break up into committees to hear briefings from counsel on the specifics of Judge Lewis’ ruling, and from staff on compliance.

Lewis last month ruled that the current congressional map, which lawmakers approved in 2012, violated the Florida Constitution because it did not follow anti-gerrymandering rules approved by voters in 2010. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit wanted the entire redistricting thrown out, but Lewis limited it to Districts five and ten, which are contiguous.

One of the plaintiffs in the suit is the League of Women Voters. State President Deirdre MacNab called the ruling a “champagne moment for Florida voters.” Echoing that is Mary Gutierrez, the President of the League’s Pensacola chapter. She says the Legislature is taking an important step in holding the special session, but…

“It does remain to be seen whether or not they’ll produce the maps that comply with the Constitution,” said Gutierrez. “Judge Lewis did provide strong guidance on the constitutional issues that need to be resolved by the re-drawing of the maps. Of course, we can only hope that our elected leaders take those concerns seriously.”

In his memo House Speaker Will Weatherford argued that drawing new districts could affect the upcoming elections. Legislative leaders like Senator Joe Negron, a Republican from West Palm Beach, point to overseas and absentee ballots that have already gone out in advance of the August 26 primaries. Judge Lewis also ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner and county elections supervisors to come up with a new voting schedule for any districts that lawmakers would have to redraw. Escambia County Elections Supervisor David Stafford – a past president of the Florida Association of County Elections Supervisors – says at least they have a seat at the table.

“Not from a policy perspective, on whether a special election is better than waiting until the 2016 elections,” Stafford said, “But more so, just as an almost technical advisor on ‘OK, you say you want to consider this, you want to do this. Can you actually physically do it?’”

While he and 66 other elections supervisors are watching what happens in Tallahassee, Stafford says for now it’s business as usual preparing for the August 26 primary and November 4 general election.

The memo from House Speaker Will Weatherford also made it clear that the special session will be held for the "sole and exclusive" purpose of redrawing congressional districts. That language is aimed at preventing any unrelated issues from being taken up.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.