In an op-ed published today, state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, writes that she is willing to testify on last year’s controversial elections law. Dockery was the only lawmaker subpoenaed in a legal challenge to the elections measure who voted “no” on the law.
Sponsors of the law — state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Rep. Dennis Baxley — as well as state Rep. Seth McKeel and Dockery reportedly decided last month that they did not want to talk about the controversial elections law and their role in its passage. A judge announced last week, however, that the four legislators who had been fighting against testifying no longer had to.
Dockery explains in her new op-ed that the Legislature had been fighting testifying, but she is personally willing to speak out against the law, which she calls “another poorly vetted piece of legislative slop.”
In typical Tallahassee fashion, the bill was rushed to the Senate floor. Surprised and disappointed at the bill’s expansion, I joined one other Republican and most of the Democrats in opposition. Many concerned citizens, Republicans and Democrats alike, contacted my office about what they perceived to be an attempt at voter suppression. What was going on? What were the true motivations? In response, the bill’s supporters offered unsupported allegations of voter fraud.
The League of Women Voters and other organizations decided to sue the state, arguing the new restrictions violate the U.S. Constitution or federal law in three main ways: (1) they violate plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected rights of speech and association; (2) they fail to give individuals and groups fair notice of how to comply with confusing and unclear mandates; and (3) they violate the National Voter Registration Act – a federal law designed in part to encourage community-based voter registration activity.
In November, several legislators and staffers, myself included, received a subpoena from the groups’ attorneys asking for documents related to the bill. My office voluntarily turned over what we had, which wasn’t much since I never heard the controversial provisions in the Ethics and Elections Subcommittee where proper vetting should have occurred. It remains my intention to cooperate in any way necessary, as I still question both the process and the policy.
In mid-January, the Senate’s General Counsel informed me that the Legislature would oppose the depositions, arguing that lawmakers are protected by “legislative immunity and privilege.” On Feb. 3, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that legislators long have had a common-law privilege that shields them from being forced to testify about why they make decisions.
While my name was included on the legal action, I made sure I was free to voluntarily testify or speak to the issue. Of the four legislators issued subpoenas, I was the only “no” vote.
To be clear, I will willingly share my thoughts on the policy and process and I question whether the four most controversial parts will survive the scrutiny of the courts and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The voters may not have had much say in the legislative process, but they will have their day in court.
Legislators who aided the passage of the controversial law have said little about it since it was passed. Last month, the U.S. Senate held a field hearing in Tampa to investigate the motives and fallout of the laws current implementation in over 60 counties across the state.