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The first public hearing on Florida redistricting will be Monday, but the Redistricting Committee is not scheduled to begin drawing new district maps until January of next year. This has some in the state worried that they will finish redistricting in time for the 2012 primary elections.

Under the current schedule, they said, final approval of the district lines could be pushed beyond the dates for candidates to qualify for the election, June 4-8, or even near the Aug. 14 state primary. Candidates wouldn’t know which districts they could run in, and voters wouldn’t know which candidates they could vote on.

Fair Districts Now, a group that proposed state constitutional amendments (later approved during a 2010 referendum) aimed at limiting the influence of politics on redistricting, believes that the Republican-controlled redistricting committee is stalling the redistricting process for as long as possible to protect themselves and other incumbents. But lawmakers argue they are not ultimately responsible for the redistricting schedule.

Lawmakers also contend that their schedule for redrawing the lines is set by the Florida Constitution. They also highlighted the fact that the session was moved up from its usual March start date to January so the Legislature can get an earlier start on drawing the lines.

Former state Sen. Dan Geller, now a member of Fair Districts Now, disagrees.

The state Constitution lays out the schedule for producing a legislative district map, but Geller noted the Legislature could produce a Congressional map any time and put it before the public for comment.

The committee members’ constitutional rationale is somewhat ironic, given that they have currently spent over $1 million trying to defeat the Fair Districts amendments, which are of course part of the state Constitution. A group of Fair Districts supporters have sent a letter to the committee members, urging them to drop out of the lawsuit against the amendments.

“Please let us know that you will do your duty, abide by your oaths to enforce the Florida Constitution, and comply with the Fair Districts amendments,” the groups said in a letter to legislative leaders dated Tuesday. [Palm Beach Post] [Tampa Bay Online]

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