End of immunity bill welcomed
Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 16:02
Florida lawmakers in the House faced a heap of public criticism last week after pursuing a brash plan that would absolutely shield themselves and their staffers from having to testify in civil lawsuits.
The bill, which passed in the House Judiciary Committee just last Thursday, was suspicious considering the lawsuits lawmakers face involving recent controversial redistricting maps.
Luckily, the so-called "immunity" bill was shot down Monday by a lack of support in the Senate.
To his chagrin, House Speaker Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) was forced to kill the bill after incoming Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) declared the House proposal was both unnecessary and overly politicized.
According to the Bradenton Herald, Gaetz argued, "There is already sufficient and substantial legal protection against ‘intrusive deposition' of legislators in matters of public policy." He is totally right and deserves a pat on the back for rising to the occasion.
Federal law already offers protection to state lawmakers from having to testify in lawsuits involving official work — something necessary given the amount of lawsuits that could bog down a legislature. However, federal law still allows for limited testimony at the court's discretion.
But the House proposal wanted to grant lawmakers total immunity — no testifying, period. The bill was a shameful attempt to shutter open, transparent government and a slap in the face to our state's Sunshine-in-the-Government laws. It also has the public wondering if the state legislature was less-than-faithful to a pair of Fair Districts amendments that voters passed in 2010.
Of course, Cannon denies the bill had anything to do with shielding him and his cohorts from redistricting lawsuits. He also called the right side to this debate "ill-informed and politically-motivated," according to a blog post on the Miami Herald.
Now the lawmakers' plan will surely backfire. They have already damaged their credibility in the eyes of the public, and opposition from voices like Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith stand to gain more traction. Smith, like many Democrats upset over the new legislative and congressional maps, accused Republicans of engaging in "incumbent protection and partisan gerrymandering," according to the Associated Press.
Other groups like the League of Women Voters of Florida, The National Council of La Raza and Common Cause Florida plan to sue in Tallahassee once Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill into law.
It is unfortunate that these lawsuits will require valuable time and money. At the same time, interpreting the constitutionality of the redistricting plan is a welcomed function of the Florida courts.