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- 2014 - January - 10th -

Lawmakers could face tougher residency standards

By Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

A pair of state lawmakers announced a proposal Thursday that would tighten the definition of residency for elected officials — but almost immediately conceded the bills might be overhauled to exempt the Legislature.

Instead, lawmakers would be subject to a separate joint rule being developed by House and Senate leaders.

The bills (HB 495 and SB 602) list 20 criteria that could be used to determine where a candidate or official lives, ranging from where the person claims a homestead exemption to where his or her bank statements are mailed.

At the same time, the measures don't specify what the punishment might be or who would be responsible for enforcing the standards.

Constitutional issues might prevent lawmakers from applying the law to themselves, said Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Under the state's constitution, each chamber "shall be the sole judge of the qualifications, elections, and returns of its members." Instead, a proposal issued by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, would deal with legislative residency.

Latvala said the process for that was pushed ahead when the Legislature's top lawyers issued a memo sketching out what should legally be called home.

The memo laid out criteria based on previous court cases and other opinions to help determine whether elected officials can really call their residences home.

Lawmakers who have pushed for tightening the rules on residency could have stopped with the assurances that it would be addressed for the Legislature, Latvala said.

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