TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Lawmakers easily approved a new rule Tuesday spelling out what qualifies members of the House and Senate to be legal residents of their districts — a constitutional requirement for holding office.
The Senate approved the measure (SCR 954) first, in a 39-0 vote, after a brief explanation of the proposal. The House acted about two hours later, passing the rule on a voice vote. The debate and vote in the House took less than two minutes.
The measure became the first substantive legislation to be approved by both chambers of the Legislature during the 2014 session, which opened Tuesday. Gov. Rick Scott does not have to sign the resolution for it to take effect.
“What these ultimately basically get to is, do you in fact live and intend to live in that particular district?” said Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, when introducing the measure in the Senate.
Legislative leaders say the rule is necessary after a series of flare-ups over what, exactly, constitutes a lawmaker’s residency. The Florida Constitution says the House and Senate alone decide whether someone is qualified to serve in each chamber.
“By, now, putting very clearly in our rules what the residency standards are, if someone were to ever file a complaint, we’d have very clear standards to take that complaint and put (it) up against,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
Under the bill, lawmakers’ residencies could be determined by a list of 13 factors, including where they are registered to vote, where they claim homestead exemptions and which addresses are listed on driver’s licenses. Each lawmaker would have to file paperwork after every election saying that he or she lives in the right district.
The push for new residency standards has its roots in a battle for the Senate presidency for the term that begins after the 2016 elections. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, publicly accused Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, of living outside her district after Sachs in 2012 beat a Latvala ally in his bid to lead the chamber.
Sachs has faced questions because a home she and her husband own is outside the District 34 boundaries. Sachs at one time claimed to live in a Fort Lauderdale condo owned by a friend but earlier this year changed her voter registration to a condominium in Delray Beach.
Sachs says her residency has been established by state reviews.
Latvala did not speak about the rule Tuesday, but has recently said the measure is a good first step.
Lawmakers are still weighing similar legislation dealing with local elected officials, but have said that the Legislature needed to be handled separately because of the constitutional issues.
“The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.”