The Florida Senate is expected today to consider a bill that would keep all of Sarasota County, and nearly all of Manatee, in the same congressional district. Let's hope Senate Bill 2B is approved, and then prevails over the redistricting plan passed Tuesday by the House of Representatives.
On Monday, the Senate Reapportionment Committee voted 7-0 for a bill that would maintain District 16 in its current form, which is consistent with provisions in the Florida Constitution that call for compact districts that "utilize existing political and geographic boundaries."
The House's plan is unnecessarily and indefensibly inconsistent with those constitutional principles as it relates to Sarasota County. It would, for example, split the county into two congressional districts 16 and 17. North Sarasota County would join all of Manatee and about 13 percent of southern Hillsborough County in a new District 16. South Sarasota County would be lumped into a nine-county District 17.
Nearly half 43 percent of Sarasota County's population would be moved into District 17 under the House plan. Unfortunately, Rep. Julio Gonzales, a Republican from Venice, failed in an attempt to get the House to approve an amendment consistent with the Senate plan. (Gonzales has worked with Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, to prevent a Sarasota County split.)
Under the House bill, the populations of south Sarasota County and Charlotte County would each constitute 23 percent of the district the highest percentages of any county in District 17. That minority status shows how sprawling the district would be. The county with the next-highest percentage would be Highlands (14 percent).
Even though all of DeSoto, Glades and Hardee counties would be included, their collective populations would only constitute a total of 11 percent of the district.
Republican Tom Rooney currently represents District 17. He is based in Okeechobee: Does anyone really think anyone from the inland part of the state could adequately represent the interests of coastal Sarasota and Charlotte counties and efficiently interact with its residents? What's more, the district in the House map is hardly compact and disregards political boundaries in three (Sarasota, Lee and Polk) of the nine counties.
The divide-Sarasota County plan emerged from a "base map" created by legislative staff and used by the House and Senate as a starting point for court-ordered redistricting.
(The Florida Supreme Court ruled in July that the Legislature violated the state constitution by letting partisan politics and incumbent protection affect the decennial redistricting process in 2012.) Yet an early draft of the base map kept District 16 intact, and the Senate bill shows it can clearly be done.
We understand that redistricting is not easy. The court's ruling increased the degree of difficulty and made legislators, especially in the House, afraid to tinker with the base map.
But District 16 was not one of the districts cited by the court as unconstitutional. Every effort should be made to preserve the very positive status quo in the two-county district.
As we have written previously, the configuration of District 16 benefits the people of both counties, who are connected by an integrated economy, shared cultural institutions, a full-service airport, water-sharing agreements, a single transportation-planning organization and bicounty social service-agencies.
If the House and Senate approve different maps, negotiations between the two chambers will ensue. The bill scheduled for debate in the Senate today was approved by a committee headed by Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican.
Galvano is Senate majority leader and slated to be the chamber's next president. The House speaker should defer to Galvano's committee, common sense and constitutionality and maintain the integrity of District 16