Scott puts brakes on new district amendments
The governor made the move just three days after being sworn into office.
Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 8:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 8:33 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott has thrown the brakes on two constitutional amendments that would force lawmakers to follow new standards for redrawing congressional and legislative districts.
Scott made the move just three days after being sworn into office, but the decision did not surface until this week.
The Scott administration withdrew a request that the U.S. Department of Justice review Amendments 5 and 6.
Florida is required to have election law changes reviewed by federal authorities because of past discrimination in five counties.
But the move drew immediate protest from Democrats and amendment supporters, who viewed it as a way to delay or prevent the amendments from taking effect.
Nearly 63 percent of voters approved both measures.
A spokesman for Scott, however, contended that the decision fit in with Scott's executive order that halted all new agency rules and suspended the approval of any contracts worth more than $1 million.
Brian Hughes noted that it will be months before state lawmakers start drawing new districts.
"This withdrawal in no way impedes the process of redrawing Florida's legislative and congressional districts," Hughes said.
Florida's top election office in December asked the federal government to review the two amendments. Former Gov. Charlie Crist supported both measures. But the Scott administration withdrew that request on Jan. 7 — or three days after Scott became governor.
Amendment 5 and Amendment 6 would force legislators to draw up new compact districts for both the Legislature and Congress that would not favor incumbents or a particular political party.
The two amendments were backed heavily by Democratic-aligned groups and staunchly opposed by legislative leaders.
Hughes, however, could not say when, or if, the Scott administration planned to resubmit the amendments to federal authorities.
But if the Scott administration does not act it could then trigger a lawsuit from those groups who helped push the two amendments on the ballot.
Those who support the amendments were sharply critical of the decision.
Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich said the governor should follow the "will of the voters."
"The governor got elected with 48 percent and he calls that a mandate," Rich said. "I think that the amendment passing with 63 percent is definitely a mandate."
Leon Russell, a NAACP national board member and member of the group now pushing to implement the two amendments, said Scott had abused his position "to prevent implementation of these needed reforms."
One of the two amendments is already under a legal challenge in federal court. Two members of Congress — U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, contend that Amendment 6 would violate federal voting laws intended to protect minorities. Amendment 5 applies to just legislative districts.
The Florida House also asked a federal judge in Miami this month to let the GOP-controlled chamber intervene in the lawsuit.
The House contends that Amendment 6 is unconstitutional because it would put limits on how state lawmakers draw up new districts for Congress.
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