Lawmakers Pass Residency Rule

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Florida lawmakers have taken a step to better police themselves.

Both the house and senate passed a joint rule stating lawmakers must live in the areas they represent.

Following a series of reports, including on Eyewitness News, about legislators possibly living outside their districts, action has been taken on the first day of session.

Specifically, Senator Jack Latvala of Clearwater believes the problem is Florida law does not clearly define residency.

The joint rule the Senate and House passed today states a member shall be a legal resident at the time of election and through the duration of office.

While members can have multiple residences, they can have only one legal residence.

Voter registration records, bank records, homestead tax exemption, where mail is received and the location of a lawmaker's spouse and minor children are factors in considering residency.

Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda voted for the plan in the House Rules Committee.

Reporter: "Do you think any of your colleagues may be in trouble because of this rule?

Vasilinda: "You know I don't know, I decline to comment on that, I don't think so, we'll see how it all goes, but I think we needed to do this."

"I think we can declare victory today because I originally started out only dealing with the legislature," Latvala said.

Latvala also has a bill to more clearly define residency for local government leaders.

It's now just beginning to go through the committee process.

Latvala says his proposal for local leaders may face some amendments.

He also says he's not sure at this point what the ultimate fate of that proposal will be.

News Release: Florida Legislature
Updated: March 4, 2014, 4:30pm

Tallahassee, FL – Florida Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and House Speaker Will Weatherford today released the following statement regarding the House and Senate’s adoption of a joint rule on residency (HCR 8007/SCR 954) for members elected to the Florida Legislature:

“Today, the Florida Legislature took the furthest step to date to clarify the constitutional provision that requires members to be residents of their districts. By adopting a joint rule on residency, there should be greater certainty in how the Legislature determines whether members are living among the people they are elected to represent.”

The Joint Rule on Residency (HCR 8007/SCR 954) specifies that residency is demonstrated by a totality of the circumstances based on a non-exhaustive list of common-sense factors and codifies the way a residency challenge would currently be analyzed: start with the Legislature’s unique constitutional authority and then look at the particular facts. At Organization Session, the joint rule requires each member to affirm in writing that he or she is an elector and a legal resident of his or her district.

It's been a source of controversy and public complaints.

Florida's Department of Education is in the process of revising how the state's public schools are graded.

Senate President Don Gaetz said lawmakers, if necessary, would introduce a bill to make sure it happens.

"I don't want to," said Gaetz. "It seems to me that is a job for the board of education," he said. "We need a simple school grading system people can understand," Gaetz said.

"I believe the number one issue that we have to focus on when it comes to our K through 12 education system is restoring trust and integrity into our grading system," said Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Gaetz and Weatherford together unveiled Work Plan 2014, a joint house and senate five point agenda for the upcoming session.

In addition to education issues including no tuition increase for higher education, there's a set of proposals for military and veterans.

There are measures designed to protect seniors and children, including tougher laws for sex offenders.

Like Governor Rick Scott, the leaders also support a $500-million dollar tax cut.

"This will be a broad based tax cut that will target low income and working Floridians," said Gaetz.

And the plan calls for improving government accountability, including the state worker retirement system.

The leaders say they'll also introduce new rules in the house and senate to strengthen residency requirements for lawmakers.

Weatherford says their overall plan for the session will reflect several of Governor Scott's budget priorities.

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