In Tarpon Springs, activists criticize redistricting process during meeting with House Redistricting Committee Chair Peter Nehr listen08/26/11 Josh Holton
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Next year Florida will redraw its political boundary lines, and last night Tarpon Springs residents voiced their opinions about the process at a public meeting. Republican State Representative Peter Nehr gave his constituents a chance to learn more about how their district lines could change.
Every 10 years, the US takes a census of the population, and then legislators redraw voting districts to reflect new demographics. The public can use the same software as the Florida Legislature to suggest new district boundaries. An activist from Awake Pinellas, Kofi Hunt, said that the legislature isnâ€™t also posting their own proposals, leaving the people in the dark.
Representative Nehr said other states like Illinois passed new maps without engaging the public, so Florida isnâ€™t out of line. He said that as a chair of the House redistricting committee, he will make public comments a priority in the map-making process.
But the Florida House Redistricting Committee has only confirmed that 44 proposals have been posted online. Representative Nehr said he sent out about 12,000 invitations to the redistricting meeting, and was disappointed at the low turnout. About 20 citizens attended; of those, only a handful offered public comment. Some people are worried that legislators may draw districts to favor incumbents. Nehr empathized with the speakers concerned that the only district maps that can be approved are those drawn by legislators, not citizens.
No legislator has proposed a map yet, and none are likely to submit one before the last public redistricting meeting on September first. But only they can submit the maps for approval.
Last November, Florida voters passed the Fair Districts amendments. Now no incumbent or political party can be favored or disadvantaged by new district lines. It also requires districts should be compact. But Nehr says a bipartisan lawsuit claims that one of the amendments violates federal law.
Jason Smith is with an electrical union, and was not happy that the lawsuit is funded on the backs of taxpayers.
Nehr said a lot of people are angry there will be drastically different district boundaries. He said recently some Tea Party supporters were aggressive at larger meetings. Some called him a Nazi, and some protesters were forcefully thrown out of the building. The next public meeting will be Monday at 4 in the afternoon at Jefferson High School. And there will be another meeting on Tuesday at 8 in the morning at the Epicenter at St. Pete College.