Florida lawmakers agree to redraw Senate districts in a second special session

Lloyd Dunkelberger | Herald Tribune | 07/28/2015

TALLAHASSEE - Florida legislative leaders today agreed to a second special session on redistricting that will start in mid-October and involve the redrawing of district lines for the 40 state Senate seats that were being challenged in a lawsuit.

The Senate redistricting session will follow a 12-day special session that begins Aug. 10, where lawmakers will be redrawing districts lines for eight of the 27 congressional seats, after the Supreme Court ruled the 2012 redistricting map violated the state constitutional prohibition against partisan line-drawing.

The Senate districts faced a similar legal challenge in a trial that was set to start in late September. But following the July 9 court ruling on the congressional district, House and Senate leaders have reached an agreement to redraw the Senate maps with the groups, including the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, which had alleged the Senate line drawing was unconstitutionally tainted by the behind-the-scenes work of Republican operatives.

Instead of heading toward a trial, lawmakers will hold a 19-day special session from Oct. 19 to Nov. 6 to redraw the lines under the dictates of the state Supreme Court ruling. The session will coincide with two already scheduled committee meeting weeks for lawmakers who are preparing for the 2016 regular session, which begins in January.

In their latest filings, the challengers alleged some 28 of the 40 Senate districts violated the state constitution.

Many of the challenged districts involve the top leaders in the state Senate. For instance:

  • Districts drawn for Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, were amended so the two lawmakers did have to run in the same district.
  • Districts were rearranged in the Orlando area so Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, did not end up in the same district.
  • The city of Daytona Beach and an African-American community were split to help GOP candidates.
  • A district in Southeast Florida split four counties in an effort to help Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Like the procedures outlined for the congressional redistricting session, legislative leaders said legislative staff will create a “base map” for the revised Senate districts that will “avoid any assessment of the political implications of any map either before or during the special session,” except where it is necessary to comply with minority voting rights.

The base map will then be the subject of open debate and amendments during the special session while lawmakers configure the final Senate plan.

In reaching the agreement with the Florida League of Women voters and other challengers, the Senate essentially absolved the House from any participation in the original 2012 Senate map, which has been the basis of the legal challenge.

“The House did not intend to favor or disfavor any political party or incumbent and had no knowledge of any constitutional infirmities relating to the enacted plan,” Senate President Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in their joint announcement today.

The House 2012 redistricting map has not been challenged under the 2010 “Fair Districts” amendments that prohibit partisan line drawing and the creation of political districts to favor either legislative or congressional incumbents.

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