Florida Republican Legislators Give Themselves “Absolute Shield”

The Courts and the Public, Apparently, Have No Right to Make Them Speak

sealed-lips

If you noticed an avalanche of lawsuits over your decisions, would you:

a) Take a moment to consider objectively what you’ve been doing and adjust your actions going forward, or

b) Pass legislation that says you can no longer be sued.

If you’re a Florida lawmaker, you will pick option B in a heartbeat. And so, Florida’s super-majority Republican legislature, facing court challenges to ALEC-written laws, is now shielding its members from giving testimony or depositions explaining their intentions.

Republicans on the panel [committee] said the move was necessary because more and more groups – teachers, unions, and others – are filing lawsuits against the Legislature and attempting to compel lawmakers and their staff to testify about the “legislative intent” behind what they’ve passed…

Current Florida law allows a limited privilege that protects lawmakers, but it is subject to a case-by-case determination by a judge about whether it should be applied. Two weeks ago, four legislators and two staff members persuaded a U.S. district judge in Tallahassee to quash subpoenas by the U.S. Justice Department seeking to ask about the “legislative intent” of controversial voting reforms passed in 2011.

The bill — which, fittingly, was introduced anonymously — comes just as the Republican state House and Senate are unveiling their new district maps, redrawing lines as required after the 2010 census.

Spoiler alert: the new maps continue to ensure Republican victories in almost all districts despite the fact that there are more registered Democrats in Florida than there are Republicans. Florida Democratic Party Chair Rod Smith explained that the Republicans are acting in defiance of recently passed state constitutional amendments protecting the redistricting process.

Voters in 2010 overwhelmingly approved the Fair Districts amendments with 63 percent of the vote in a clear demand for a different process — one free from incumbent protection and partisan advantage…

While the people have spoken, the GOP refuse to relent without a fight — appropriating over $30 million in taxpayer dollars to thwart the people’s will.

Almost every hare-brained piece of legislation dreamed up by ALEC and introduced in the Republican echo chamber in Tallahassee has earned a lawsuit, from voting rights suppression to attacks on public education to stopping reproductive freedom to unconstitutional drug testing of people on public assistance. But rather than consider that these are bad ideas, the Republicans simply vote to keep from answering questions about them.

…the legislation would make it impossible for Floridians to rely on the courts to force legislators and their staffs to produce public records. When they refuse to produce those records, the only recourse is to ask a judge to compel them to produce the public documents. The legislation says it does not affect the right of access to records, but granting an absolute privilege from any civil action would make it impossible to get the courts to enforce that right. A League of Women Voters representative told the committee the legislation is an “outrageous assault” on open government, and that may be an understatement.

3 Comments

  • CatBallou
    February 17, 2012 - 4:37 pm | Permalink

    “hare” brained

  • February 17, 2012 - 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks CatBallou. That’s what happens when you post in a little too much of a hurry.

  • Jean
    February 24, 2012 - 5:10 am | Permalink

    This is a no brainer. There is so much corruption up in the Tallahassee legislature, that they want to protect themselves from any past, present, or future crimes they either have or intend to commit. Now, they can NEVER be held accountable for anything, Got to hand it to the Republicans, they have balls. But you know what, most of their constituants, won’t see anything wrong with this, and will vote them in again.

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