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Hays on the hot seat over redistricting comments

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Rep. Alan Hays (R) Umatilla

By Regan McCarthy

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-992760.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – The once-a-decade redistricting process is expected to take up much of the coming legislative session. Lawmakers are already looking at possible maps, with the goal of finding districts that follow the state's equality laws. But not everyone sees eye to eye on how to do that. Regan McCarthy reports Senator Alan Hays has come under attack for a suggestion he made about drawing Hispanic seats.

Florida governor Rick Scott told members of the press he expects redistricting to be a major battle in the coming session. And it looks like he's right. Senator Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla ruffled some feathers during a Senate Reapportionment meeting in October when he shared his opinion about creating Hispanic minority seats. Here's what he said:

"Before we design a district anywhere in the state of Florida, for Hispanic voters, we need to ascertain that they are citizens of the united state. We all know there are many Hispanic-speaking people in the state of Florida that aren't legal. And I just don't think that its right that we try to draw a district that encompasses people that really have to business voting anyhow. If we know registered voters are people who have proven their citizenship, then that's a completely different story, but I'm not aware of any citizenship necessary before you register to vote."

Actually most voter register when they get their drivers licenses, and they do have to prove they're citizens then. Other voters register at the elections office where they're required to swear under oath they're citizens. Now some are calling for the Senator's removal from the committee including a group of Republicans from three central Florida Counties and Representative Darren Soto from Orlando and fellow Democrat, along with Representative Janet Cruz of Tampa. Soto and Cruz have sent multiple letters to House and Senate leadership asking them to take action. Cruz says as an elected female Hispanic member of the legislature she feels it's her duty to speak out, saying Hay's comments were completely off base.

"Senator Hays needs a lesson on citizenship. You know he spoke and said something about Hispanic speaking people and people don't speak Hispanic they speak Spanish. And you know what? Folks that speak two languages I think are more valuable than people who only speak one language."

But Cruz says she and Representative Soto haven't heard anything back from the Senate President or committee leadership and that in itself is frustrating.

"I haven't heard anything yet and that too is sad. I think that we need to address this."

And it looks likely Cruz won't get the answer she's looking for. Senator Don Gaetz who chairs the Senate Reapportionment committee says his members don't seem worried.

"At our meeting, no one made any comment at all, you know no one seemed to pick up on the issue at all. So, as far as the reapportionment committee is concerned it's water under the dam."

And he says he personally is happy with the job he's seen Hays doing.

"Senator Hays has been a contributing member of the committee. He has faithfully attended hearings across the state and listened to thousands of people who have shared their views about redistricting issues. And if the president wants to make s change in the committee he can. He has added two members of the committee and he can take me or anybody else off the committee if he wants to."

Senate President Haridopolos told reporters he doesn't intend to press the issue.

"I've talked to Senator Hays. I think he regrets what he might have said. I think maybe he should have said it more clearly. He has concerns as many people have about people voting who might not be eligible to vote, but I just think he didn't speak it the way that he would have liked to have. We all say things we sometimes regret. I think that's one of those cases."

Haridopolos says what's important is what's happening now. He says the committee has confirmed its commitment to keep minority representation at its current levels at a minimum. Hay's himself is staying silent on the issue and refusing to comment.