In talking about redistricting — the redrawing of legislative and congressional districts that figures to be a prominent story for the next year or so — state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, recently made the point that he did not vote to spend money on a lawsuit that seeks to overturn a redistricting constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2010.
That amendment, called Amendment 6, says that elected officials cannot draw congressional districts to favor incumbents, political parties or thwart minority representation. (A separate amendment, Amendment 5, includes the same protections for state legislative districts).
In a previous item about whether Hays voted to spend money to fight a lawsuit about one of the amendments, we rated Hays' claim True, noting that the issue did not come up for a vote in the Florida Senate, and that it's the House that has joined a lawsuit trying to strike Amendment 6 down. We also checked a broader claim from Hays that the Legislature has not "filed a lawsuit to fight" the state constitutional amendment.
But that doesn't mean we're done with his statement to voters at The Villages during a July 13, 2011 redistricting public hearing.
"Some of you people had voted to tax or to spend our taxes against the amendments that were passed by 63 percent of the vote," a man told legislators during the hearing. "I wonder if you, Sen. Hays, since I'm in your district, did you vote?"
"Did I vote for what?" Hays asked.
"....These taxes being paid for the suit against the amendments?" the man asked.
Later in the meeting, Hays responded:
"No I did not vote to spend money to fight that lawsuit. The disappointing part of this whole thing, folks, is the misinformation that is out there. The Florida Legislature has not filed a lawsuit to fight Amendments 5 and 6. The Amendment 6 lawsuit was filed by one Republican congressman and one Democratic congresswoman. The Florida House chose to go, and what's the term? An intervenor? ... in seeking clarification. The Florida House intervened. But your tax dollars are not being used to sue you, the people who voted the 63 percent. Believe me. I don't know where you got your information but it's incorrect. So no I did not vote to waste that money."
So Hays was right to say he didn't vote to spend money "to fight that lawsuit." But was he also right to claim that "your tax dollars are not being used to sue you?"
The day after Amendments 5 and 6 passed, two of Florida's minority members of Congress — Democrat Corrine Brown and Republican Mario Diaz-Balart — filed suit seeking to overturn Amendment 6 (which relates to congressional redistricting). They argued that the amendment will negatively affect minority representation. On Jan. 14, 2011, the Florida House filed a motion seeking to join the Brown/Diaz-Balart lawsuit, arguing in a filing that: "It is the Legislature — not Plaintiffs — which has the primary responsibility for redistricting. And it is the Legislature — not Plaintiffs — whose prerogative will be challenged (and potentially invalidated) under the Amendment," the suit says.
The Florida Senate, in which Hays serves, is not a party to the lawsuit.
Regardless, tax dollars are being used for the suit, state budget records show. The House has spent slightly more than $700,000 on contract legal fees for three firms associated with redistricting issues. GrayRobinson, received the highest amount: about $614,000 between July 2010 and May 2011. Latham and Watkins had been paid about $28,000 and Miguel De Grandy about $58,000.
Not all those fees are connected to the Amendment 6 lawsuit, said House spokeswoman Katie Betta. But some are. Betta gave us a ballpark breakdown: about 50 percent of those bills were related to the Amendment 6 lawsuit, 40 percent were for general legal services related to the redistricting process and the last 10 percent were for the required process for the state to seek permission from the federal Department of Justice to go forward with the amendments.
To go a step further, tax dollars are being used to defend Amendment 6 as well.
Through June 2011, the defendant, the Florida Secretary of State, has paid $59,724.26 to lawyer Harry Thomas with the Tallahassee firm of Radey Thomas Yon & Clark. The Secretary of State is the defendant because the office is charged with implementing the amendment.
(Brown and Diaz-Balart are using legal defense funds — not tax dollars — to pay for the lawsuits, said David Simon, spokesman for Brown.)
Hays told a group of residents concerned about redistricting, "Your tax dollars are not being used to sue you the people who voted the 63 percent." But tax dollars are being used by the House to try to strike down Amendment 6, as well as by the Secretary of State to defend the amendment in court. We rate this claim False.
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