Redistricting advocates protest delay and gagging of legislators during hearings

Mary Ellen Klas | Miami Herald | 06/14/2011

n a letter to House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos this morning, the League of Women Voters, NAACP, Common Cause, Democracia and other advocacy groups working with the Democrat-backed Fair Districts Florida, strongly protested the gag rule imposed by the leaders on legislature during hearings next week in which they are prohibited from discussing maps or even speaking out.

In a conference call with reporters, the groups warned that the legislative silence, coupled with the delayed schedule in creating congressional and legislative maps, will make Florida one of the last states to have completed new districts.

The hearings are "a potential charade" that is "putting voters last," said Deirdre McNab of the League of Women Voters."Give the voters something to respond to — so the debate is substantive...and we can having meaningful, organized, productive elections instead of the likely chaos that will happen.''

The group cited an email to House and Senate members of the redistricting committees from Sen. Don Gaetz that said that members should not engage the public in demand and remain silent. Dan Gelber, former state senator from Miami Beach and a lawyer for the group, said that Gaetz's email was intended to prevent legislators from saying anything so as not to reveal their true intent, thereby making them vulnerable when the final maps are ultimately reviewed by the court. Download Gaetz redistricting letter

Jorge Mursuli, of the Hispanic advocacy group Democracia, said the exercise of holding hearings without maps to comment on "is a total waste of time." He said it's like "explaining a big math problem without a chalk board."

"We believe that these hearings would be much more useful and meaningful if citizens and their representatives could engage in real dialogue about how they want the maps to be drawn,'' the groups said in a press release. "Hearing from legislators about how they intend to comply with the new redistricting rules will engender public confidence, which might counteract the fact that the Legislature has spent and is still spending large amounts of tax dollars to fight the amendments." Download Ltr to leg leaders 6-14-11 Final[1]

Gelber said that it is possible that legislators will not have a map to vote on until the end of the legislative session in March.

Copyright 2011 Miami Herald Media Co.

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