The strong public outcry over House action to grant Florida legislators and staff members absolute immunity from lawsuits brought a quick end to the proposal. The timing of the measure looked suspect just days after the Florida Democratic Party filed a suit challenging congressional redistricting maps.
The four-page bill passed in the House Judiciary Committee only last Thursday. Proponents defended the measure as merely providing clarity to existing common law protections, citing recent attempts to subpoena lawmakers on public policy issues other than reapportionment. That red herring didn’t hold up.
Federal law shields legislators from being compelled to testify in civil cases about official work, a necessary protection against frivolous lawsuits. But the protection is not absolute, and limited testimony could be ordered by the courts.
The House bill would have eliminated that judicial discretion and also raised the specter of public records kept secret, an overly sweeping assault on open government.
Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, rejected the House proposal in a strongly worded memo, noting the immunity issue had become too politicized. Plus, he stated, “My view is there is already sufficient and substantial legal protection against ‘intrusive deposition’ of legislators in matters of public policy.”
House leaders quickly backed off the proposal on Monday.
Besides Democrats, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and the National Council of La Raza are fighting congressional maps that strengthen Republican power in some districts despite the party’s falling numbers of GOP-registered voters.
Florida’s new Fair District amendments require political boundaries be drawn without regard to incumbent protection. Voters deserve answers from lawmakers about how these lines were drawn.
Lawsuits over redistricting were anticipated even before the process began. Lawmakers should stand up and explain the rationale behind the maps, bearing in mind that Florida’s Sunshine-in-the-Government laws ensure transparency and accountability.
Cheers to Sen. Gaetz, who chairs the Senate Reapportionment Committee, for his opposition to absolute immunity.
And to incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, who chairs his chamber’s Redistricting Committee. The Wesley Chapel Republican commended the House decision to halt the ill-advised bill.
Furthermore, Weatherford stated a willingness to answer questions about reapportionment. Floridians deserve nothing less.