Florida House passes base congressional maps

MICHAEL AUSLEN | Bradenton Herald | 08/19/2015

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Tuesday approved new, Supreme Court-mandated maps of the state's 27 congressional districts, solidifying a rift with the Senate.

The map adopts district lines drawn by House and Senate staff based on the court's instructions to correct what it called unconstitutional partisan intent that would help Republicans gain control of more seats in Congress.

Redrawn maps passed the chamber 76-35, with most House Democrats and a few Republicans voting against it.

Consistently, House leaders have said they don't want to change the maps but feel the Supreme Court has tied their hands. Many Republicans who spoke up during debate said they don't support the map but feel they must address the court's constitutionality concerns.

"There is a map, which I believe gives us the best chance to pass constitutional muster and at least for us to do our job and our duty," said state Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, "regardless of whether we feel the Supreme Court did theirs."

In the last two weeks, House members have rejected proposals to change the map, which would have put all of Sarasota County in one congressional district, rather than splitting it in the middle, and aligned districts in Palm Beach and Broward counties to run from north to south along the coast.

"It's important to follow the constitutional mandate that existing geographic and political boundaries be used to form congressional districts," said spokesman Joe Sangiorgio. "The Senate map leaves Sarasota County intact and therefore accomplishes that goal in a way the original plan did not."

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, who represents the existing Manatee-Sarasota district, has been adamantly opposed to the House version.

"It's important to follow the constitutional mandate that existing geographic and political boundaries be used to form congressional districts," Buchanan spokesman Joe Sangiorgio said Tuesday. "The Senate map leaves Sarasota County intact and therefore accomplishes that goal in a way the original plan did not."

All of Manatee County would be included in the new 16th Congressional District, which also would include about 150,000 residents in south Hillsborough County — including Riverview, Apollo Beach and Sun City Center — and the portion of Sarasota County north of Clark Road (State Road 72). It would preserve the core of a district now represented by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.

Under the current map, far East Manatee is a separate district from Bradenton and Sarasota.

Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said he supported Buchanan and hoped he would still be elected in the new district, but that he thinks both the current and newly drawn districts are good for Manatee County.

"If the Senate sends us an improvement and meets the court's scrutiny then I'm sure the speaker would take it up," said Boyd, the vice majority leader and majority whip of the House. "But that would have to be the standard."

Other Republicans from those counties supported the map on Tuesday.

"We're brought here precisely to tinker and to review and to study and to suggest better maps," said Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, who Monday introduced an amendment to unite Sarasota and the western part of Manatee counties in District 16. He supported the final map, saying he had the opportunity to change it, even though the attempt failed.

One cadre of Republican legislators opposed the map, saying that the Supreme Court's decision was unconstitutional overreach and that supporting a redrawn map mandated by the court would be tacit approval of a separation of powers violation. Among them were Rep. John Hill, R-Winter Haven, who called for the impeachment of Supreme Court justices, and Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola.

"Our constitutions are under attack," Hill said. "The United States and Florida constitutions have been assaulted."

Many Democrats voted against the map, even after defending the Supreme Court's opinion forcing it to be redrawn.

"We're not here because of the Supreme Court, we're here because of the former leadership of this chamber. They violated the Constitution," said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, who voted against the map. "But we didn't do everything the Supreme Court asked, in my opinion."

Now, the map will go to the Senate, where lawmakers have already made changes to district boundaries in Hillsborough and Sarasota counties. The two chambers have until Friday to meet a self-imposed deadline for a map that they can both agree to.

Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, contributed to this report

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