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Gaetz opposes bill on lawmakers’ testimony exclusions

Memo from State Sen. Don Gaetz:

TO: All Senators
FROM: Don Gaetz, Senate District 4
DATE: February 20, 2012

Dear Colleague,

Last week the House Judiciary Committee reported House Bill 7123, which would clarify and codify an implied privilege against certain compelled testimony by legislators.

I respect the concerns of my House colleagues that the legislative process should be independent and that the threat of depositions should not be used as a bullying tactic against legislators who may take positions or cast votes on public issues that later could be subject to litigation.

Originally, the privilege question was raised by Representative Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg) who was ordered by a judge to give a deposition related to an online travel bill. While Representative Kriseman and I were on opposite sides of the online travel bill, I believe he was correct in refusing to sit for what he accurately called an “intrusive deposition” that breached the separation of powers doctrine.

Now, however, House Bill 7123 has become entangled in the debate on redistricting. Opponents have argued that the bill, if enacted, would be used improperly as a shield against exploring questions of legislative intent relative to the redistricting plans passed by the House and Senate.

The Senate has good reason to be proud of the open, transparent, and inclusive process which Chairman Weatherford and I and our committees followed in developing redistricting plans that earned the bi-partisan support of a majority of Democrats and nearly all Republicans in the Senate. Nonetheless, I always expected lawsuits to be filed by those whose political intentions weren’t satisfied by the maps the Legislature produced. Indeed, numerous times during our 26 public hearings across the state our committees were put on notice that there would be lawsuits by dissatisfied partisans no matter how the lines were drawn.

My view is there is already sufficient and substantial legal protection against “intrusive deposition” of legislators in matters of public policy. No additional legislation is needed and to attempt to enact a bill at this time allows it to be misconstrued by redistricting opponents.

Consequently, if the language currently in House Bill 7123 were to be considered in the Senate, I would vote against the bill.

Florida’s newly enacted congressional and legislative districts have been subjected to prolonged public scrutiny like never before. They likely will be subject to more litigation than ever before. As Chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, I do not want to chance even an appearance that the Legislature is not fully willing and able to explain our plans to any court of competent jurisdiction.

Respectfully,