Senate approves district redrawing, sends to House

Bill Cotterell | Tallhassee Democrat | 08/20/2015

The Florida Senate approved its plan for redrawing Florida's congressional districts in a 28-8 vote today, sending it to the House for compromising in the final days of the special legislative session.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, the Senate and House redistricting chairmen, scheduled an afternoon meeting to decide how to proceed. The session is scheduled to end on Friday, but will have to be extended — or a new one will have to be called — if lawmakers can't agree on a new map by then.

The House on Tuesday voted for the "base map" that was drawn by staff attorneys and legislative aides to comply with a July 9 Florida Supreme Court ruling that threw out the maps drawn in 2012 for Florida's 27 congressional districts. The court ruled that the Republican leadership violated the "Fair Districts Florida" constitutional amendments, adopted by voters in 2010 to stamp out gerrymandering or partisan favoritism in drawing the lines.

Both the House and Senate maps would split Leon County into two congressional districts. The Senate amended the "base map" by changing some Hillsborough County districts and keeping all of Sarasota County in one district.

Republicans in both chambers complained bitterly during floor debate, saying the Supreme Court violated the constitutional separation of powers by throwing out the congressional districts. Democrats countered that the GOP leadership secretly consulted with their political strategists in 2012, deliberately rigging the district borders to produce a 17-10 Republican advantage in the Florida delegation to the U.S. House.

Before the Senate convened, House Democrats called for creation of a special independent, non-partisan commission to draw district lines in the future. They conceded there is no chance that legislators would willingly give up that power.

"I understand it's going to be an uphill battle for this to be heard," Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, said at a news conference, "and by 'an uphill battle,' I mean it's not going to be heard."

The Legislature is halfway through the second week of its special session on congressional redistricting. The House passed a "base map" drawn by three staff members to comply with a July 9 Florida Supreme Court ruling that threw out the state's current congressional districts — which it said were tainted by partisan scheming by the Republican legislative leadership in 2012.

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