Florida lawmakers set August dates for redrawing U.S. House districts

The Palm Beach Post | The Palm Beach Post | 07/20/2015

TALLAHASSEE —Florida House and Senate leaders Monday called a 12-day special session beginning Aug. 10 to redraw congressional boundaries thrown out this month by the state Supreme Court.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said in a memo to legislators that they have ordered House and Senate redistricting staff to prepare a “base map” that complies with the recent ruling by justices.

In a 5-2 decision, the court found eight districts, including those held by U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, to be unconstitutional.

But because the population of each district must be close to the same, redrawing the affected districts could change as many as 20 of the state’s 27 congressional boundaries.

“We believe that presenting a base map that follows the Supreme Court order to you and the public will make it easier to discuss all legislative actions in an open and transparent manner,” Crisafulli and Gardiner said in their memo.

They also pointed out that while staffers will put a map in play, that plan will still be subject to change.

“After the base map is introduced, every member will have a full opportunity to review, discuss, debate and offer amendments to the base map,” the leaders wrote.

It will be the Legislature’s second attempt at drawing congressional districts.

A trial court last year found that Republican consultants influenced the drawing of congressional boundaries in 2012, violating voter-approved constitutional amendments that bar district lines from being cast to help or hurt a party or an incumbent.

Justices agreed with Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’ findings. But they said he did not go far enough in ordering two districts redrawn, which lawmakers did last summer.

Instead, justices demanded a broader reworking of the map. They also scolded lawmakers for deleting email, draft maps and other communication the first time around.

In their Monday memo, legislative leaders said they will preserve such records and pledged to avoid a repeat of action that might violate the constitutional standards guiding redistricting.

“If any member of the House or Senate suggests to staff that a plan be changed with the intent to favor or disfavor any incumbent or political party, staff should disregard the suggestion entirely and report in writing the conversation directly to the Speaker or the President, respectively,” the leaders wrote.

Next month’s session will mark the second return by lawmakers to the Capitol since ending the regular, two-month session in May. Lawmakers were forced back into session in June to approve a state budget, the lone bill they must pass annually.

The eight districts targeted by justices include four held by Democrats and four by Republicans.

Along with Frankel and Deutch, other Democrats affected are U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa. Republicans are U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, all of Miami, and U.S. Rep. David Jolly, from the St. Petersburg area, who announced Monday that he would run for U.S. Senate.

Jolly’s district is expected to draw more minority voters in the latest reworking, making it difficult for a Republican to win.

Brown, however, whose district stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, could undergo the most dramatic change.

Justices said her north-south district, with a sizable minority population, “must” be reconfigured to stretch east-to-west, from Jacksonville toward Tallahassee


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