TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A state panel Wednesday backed a proposed constitutional amendment that would change residency requirements for legislative candidates.
Under the proposal, candidates would have to reside in the districts they intend to represent at the time they qualify to run. Currently, they are only required to live in the districts when elected.
Without comment, the Legislative Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission approved the proposed change (Proposal 50), filed by committee Chairman Jose Felix Diaz, a former state House member.
“What it will stop is gamesmanship,” said Diaz, a Miami-Dade County Republican. “There are lot of folks that run for office in other parts of the state that are (from) many counties away just to play spoiler. This will stop that political maneuvering.”
The change would not be required in years of legislative redistricting, which often leads to substantial changes in district boundaries.
“There are some areas where you have existing legislators drawn out of their seats and they don't have a lot of time to move,” Diaz said. Last year “in the Senate, there was a change in the spring and they were already running for re-election in the fall.”
The proposal is now ready to be considered by the full 37-member Constitution Revision Commission, which will determine whether it will go before voters in November 2018.
The commission, which meets every 20 years, has the power to directly place proposed constitutional amendments on the general-election ballot.
Diaz pitched the proposal after former state Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, resigned her seat amid scrutiny about her residency. Baez, who was elected in 2016, resigned after pleading guilty to a perjury charge in an investigation by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office.
Diaz has said the proposed constitutional amendment was not spurred by the Baez case.
The issue of residency of lawmakers has been an almost-annual source of rumor and contention.
In 2013, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, sought an investigation into residency claims by six South Florida lawmakers, two fellow members of the Senate and four from the House. All six were Democrats.
Currently, part of the Florida Constitution requires, “Each legislator shall be at least twenty-one years of age, an elector and resident of the district from which elected and shall have resided in the state for a period of two years prior to election.”
The language also says residency requirements must be met “upon election,” which has been taken to mean as either when election results are certified or when a candidate was physically sworn into office.
“The courts have determined that somebody needs to reside in their district at the time of election as opposed to the time of qualifying,” Diaz said. “This would clarify the intent of the Constitution.”