The first stop of state lawmakers’ statewide redistricting roadshow is underway in Tallahassee.
Senate redistricting chair Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, opened the meeting by addressing concerns that the process isn’t adequately transparent.
Speakers at today’s hearing have argued that lawmakers should be releasing maps now, which would allow the public to comment on specific redistricting proposals. Because lawmakers are taking public input on redistricting before releasing any maps of new districts, the argument runs, the meetings amount to a “sham.” What’s the point in taking public comments on plans that have not been made public?
Gaetz said at the start of the meeting that drawing districts before the public weighs in on the redistricting process ”puts the answer ahead of the question.” These hearings allow the public to comment on the current set of districts, and how lawmakers ought to change them before they begin redrawing the lines.
As he put it later on: “We think hearings are to hear.”
Peter Butzin — a member of the governing board for Common Cause, a national nonpartisan group that helped Republicans fend off gerrymandering in 1982 when Democrats dominated state government — said the ideal process would have an initial round of public hearings during which lawmakers can take input on the redistricting process. That first round is going on right now. It should be followed by a second round later this year after lawmakers draw up the initial maps, which would allow the public to weigh in on the plans before lawmakers vote on them early next year.
That second round of hearings is important, he said but hasn’t always happened during previous rounds of redistricting.