Update: Amends 5 & 6 sent to Justice Department after GOP delayby John Kennedy | March 29th, 2011
The House and Senate agreed Tuesday to send to federal officials the voter-approved Amendments 5 and 6, apparently ending an icy standoff between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic-allied supporters of the redistricting measures.
Sending the amendments to the U.S. Justice Department for “preclearance,” is a routine step in the redistricting process. But Scott added a level of intrigue when he quietly withdraw the state’s request soon after taking office.
Supporters of the so-called Fair Districts amendments, which are aimed at requiring that compact legislative and congressional districts be designed by lawmakers without concern for incumbents or political parties, sued Scott and Secretary of State Kurt Browning to force the review to proceed.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Miami, include the state NAACP, the League of Women Voters, Democracia, a Hispanic political action group, and five individuals from Monroe County.
Former state Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat and one of the lawyers in the suit, accused Scott of “stalling.”
The governor, for his part, said at the time that the application to the Justice Department was “premature” and that he wanted to review more U.S. Census data before filing. Scott didn’t specify what he wanted to see.
“Despite pressure from special interest groups, I committed to Floridians that my review of the preclearance application for Amendments 5 and 6 would be thorough and complete,” Scott said Tuesday. “The action of legislative leaders today delivers on that promise.”
Legislative leaders, too, didn’t provide much insight on the decision to send the measures for federal review.
But in a statement, leaders said Scott had been unclear about who should make the state’s request. Lawmakers said further analysis determined that either Attorney General Pam Bondi or the Florida Legislature was authorized, with legislators opting to make the first move.
Republicans fiercely fought the ballot measures last year. Analysts have said the new standards could make Florida legislative and congressional districts more competitive, potentially weaking the GOP’s command in the state.
UPDATE: The Florida Democratic Party provided more back story later Tuesday to Scott and the Legislature’s pre-clearance move.
Spokesman Eric Jotkoff filed a public records request with Scott’s office in early January to gauge whether the governor was using taxpayer dollars to thwart implementation of Amendments 5 and 6.
On Tuesday morning, frustrated Democrats sent a followup letter, threatening legal action if Scott didn’t provide the records requested more than two months earlier. Hours later, legislators made public their decision to send the amendments to the Justice Department.
Democrats also were told by Scott’s office that the long-requested records were now available.
““The Florida Democratic Party will not sit back and allow the will of Floridians to be frustrated or delayed by those who simply seek to deny Floridians fair elections in fair districts,” said Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith.