n new court filings, House and Senate Republican leaders are conceding they deleted records related to the 2012 re-drawing of congressional and legislative maps. The voting-rights groups — including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and individual voters — challenging Florida’s re-drawn congressional maps notified a Leon County court Wednesday that they intended to place House and Senate officials under oath to find out what documents were destroyed and why. “The admission that redistricting records were destroyed should have Florida voters up in arms,” League President Deirdre Macnab said in a statement. But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, shot back that the “accusation that the Florida House … thwarted the law and destroyed documents is completely false.” “The opponents in this lawsuit have received thousands and thousands of documents,” Weatherford said. “They should know better.”
The records are a major issue because last week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled state lawmakers can be forced to testify and turn over documents related to whether they intentionally redrew political maps for partisan gain last year.
The Legislature has argued it was protected from such disclosures by a legislative privilege. Forcing lawmakers and their staffs to testify under oath would have a “chilling effect” on future policy-making, they argued.
Last Friday, the high court agreed for the first time that such a protection for lawmakers exists — but it can be outweighed when explicit constitutional mandates such as redistricting are at stake.
The fight stems from 2010 constitutional amendments adopted by voters which banned drawing new congressional or legislative lines with the intent to favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties.
And if a Leon County judge determines lawmakers did thwart the Fair Districts amendments, lawmakers could have to re-draw Florida’s congressional map before the 2014 elections.
The groups challenging last year’s maps have been battling over whether they can compel lawmakers and their staff to testify under oath and turn over campaign communications and draft versions of the maps that might shed light on their intentions.