Speaker denies House broke law
Groups challenging the constitutionality of the state's congressional districts must have thought they received an early Christmas gift last week when the Florida Supreme Court ordered lawmakers would have to testify in a case against the new maps.
But this week, they suggested that they also got a lump of coal.
In court filings, the groups asked for documents and testimony explaining why the Legislature might have destroyed records about the 2012 redistricting process that could be relevant to the case. That followed filings by lawyers for the House and Senate that suggested some of the papers the League of Women Voters of Florida and its allies were looking for might not be there.
"In strict compliance with these written record-retention policies, legislative records, including records related to congressional redistricting, were sometimes, and appropriately, discarded," lawyers for the Legislature wrote. "The legislative parties are without knowledge of the facts and circumstances of particular communications."
The argument from lawmakers was, essentially, that any record not protected by law is subject to the rules set out each term by the House and the Senate.
None of the records that the Legislature must preserve were destroyed, but some of the documents that weren't specifically protected might have been.
Needless to say, groups opposed to the maps were not filled with Christmas cheer by the revelation.
"After all the public comments by legislators expressing their belief that litigation was inevitable, the admission that any redistricting records were destroyed should have Florida voters up in arms," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
"Today's disclosure is just another example of those in charge abusing their power and then hiding behind the lame excuse that they didn't know what they were doing," Macnab said.
House Speaker Will Weatherford countered by adamantly denying that his chamber had been naughty.
"Any accusation that the Florida House of Representative thwarted the law and destroyed documents is completely false," said Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican who chaired the House committee that drew the lines in 2012. "We not only complied with the letter and the spirit of the public record laws and longstanding House rules, but also went above and beyond those standards when it came to redistricting."