Florida House blast justices but still OKs their U.S. House map

John Kennedy | Palm Beach Post | 08/18/2015

TALLAHASSEE —The Florida House approved congressional boundaries Tuesday intended to meet the state Supreme Court’s directions, but leaders still face dealing

with the Senate before settling on a new map.

Several House Republicans blasted justices for “overstepping their bounds” last month in rejecting the Legislature’s second attempt at crafting lines for the state’s 27 districts. The first effort, in 2012, also was ruled unconstitutional by a lower court.

“The Florida Supreme Court is playing a dangerous game,” said Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, who had urged lawmakers to defy the court order and reinstate the map tossed out by justices.

But Rep. Jose Rodriguez, D-Miami, said lawmakers had no one to blame but themselves as they find themselves back in a 12-day special sessionslated to end Friday.

“We are not here voting on this map because the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds,” Rodriguez said. “We are here because the Legislature violated the constitution.”

The House approved the staff-drawn map 76-35. The Senate intends Wednesday to consider a different version of the map, with the two sides likely trying to resolve differences before Friday’s scheduled finish.

While mostly criticizing the Supreme Court, a few House members also took on the Senate for straying from the staff-drawn plan, which closely follows the justices’ directions.

The court will review whatever boundaries are approved by the Legislature and could take over the line-drawing if it doesn’t endorse the Legislature’s third swipe at finishing the job.

“Let’s hope the Senate gets back in orbit,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, whose father, Don, is a senator and former Senate president.

Both the House and Senate maps reconfigure three of Palm Beach County’s four congressional boundaries.

Districts held by U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, would no longer run vertically from Palm Beach County into Broward County.

Instead, Deutch’s District 21 would be contained within Palm Beach County and stacked north of Frankel’s District 22, which would take in only Boca Raton and Highland Beach in Palm Beach plus coastal and central Broward County.

The District 20 seat held by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, would be revised to eliminate Hendry County from the district.

A host of Palm Beach County officials have urged lawmakers to keep Frankel’s and Deutch’s districts in their current form. But there appears little chance that will happen.

Three Palm Beach County lawmakers — Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, and Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach — voted against the House map Tuesday.

The differences in the Senate’s congressional boundaries are focused on eastern Hillsborough County, Sarasota and Manatee counties, but also ripple into Central Florida.

The Senate map would reduce the minority population of a district held by U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Orlando, who earlier testified that the base map’s changes made his seat unwinnable for a Republican.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who pushed for the change, said his chief motive was to keep his home region in two congressional districts, not three as the base map outlined.

In their decision, justices said that lawmakers had violated anti-gerrymandering provisions put in the state constitution by voters in 2010. And some House members warned Tuesday that Senate “tinkering” ran the risk of having the latest map also ruled unconstitutional.

“We certainly believe that what we have meets that (constitutional) criteria,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. “We feel good about what we’ve put forth.”

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