Senate passes redistricting map with changes, setting up face-off with House

Jeremey Wallace | Miami Herald | 08/20/2015

The Florida Senate overwhelmingly passed a congressional redistricting plan on Wednesday, but the 12-day special session is far from over.

The plan adopted by a 28-8 vote is vastly different — particularly in Tampa Bay — than a rival redistricting proposal the Florida House approved Tuesday.

That leaves the House and the Senate with the task of working out a compromise before the close of the special session Friday. Already, House leaders are talking about offering alterations to the Senate’s plan. If so, the plan would have to go back to the Senate for another vote. Both chambers have to agree to the same plan for it to become law.

The biggest differences between the maps are centered in the Tampa Bay region, with portions of eastern Hillsborough County and southern Sarasota County handled vastly differently. The Senate was more reluctant to change other areas of a base map that legislative staff members initially proposed two weeks ago. That base proposal is what the House passed Tuesday by a 76-35 vote.

One defeated amendment would have altered proposed district lines in South Miami-Dade and have big political ramifications in one of the state’s most competitive congressional districts. Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, said his plan would have moved predominately black communities on the west side of U.S.

1 back into Congressional District 26, represented now by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. The Senate plan that ultimately passed proposes that those communities become part of Congressional District 27, held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. Bullard said splitting Richmond Heights, Palmetto Estates and West Perrine from other south Miami-Dade communities into Ros-Lehtinen’s was “overly problematic.”

For the past several years, the 26th District has had one of the most turbulent election histories in the state. Curbelo defeated Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia by 3 percentage points in 2014, two years after Garcia defeated Republican incumbent David Rivera. Democrat Annette Taddeo has filed to run against Curbelo in 2016.

Bullard’s amendment comes after a coalition of voting groups raised a concern about the way the House and Senate plans carve 35,000 Democratic-leaning voters out of the competitive 26th District. The League of Women Voters and Common Cause have pushed for an alternative plan.

Senate staffers have argued that they needed to move those neighborhoods into the 27th District as a corresponding move when they put all of Homestead into the 26th District — a move the Florida Supreme Court prescribed.

In the Senate plan’s biggest changes affecting the Tampa Bay area, all of Hillsborough County south of the Alafia River would be in Congressional District 15, represented by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. But the House version has that entire region — about 150,000 people — in Congressional District 16 represented by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. Currently that area is split between U.S. Reps Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, and Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

The House map also would split Sarasota County in half, with the northern portion remaining in Buchanan’s district, but the southern portion put into Rooney’s district. The Senate would put all of Sarasota County back in Buchanan’s district, where it is now.

The Senate changes are an improvement over the base map that the House has adopted, said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who is leading the Senate’s redistricting effort. It reduces the number of cities split in separate districts — notably Tampa — and doesn’t create any other constitutional compliance problems, he said.

“This is a genuine product, and we are standing by it,” Galvano said.

The House needs time to weigh the changes the Senate adopted, but Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, said it was “encouraging” to see fewer splits of cities.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I can say that is an improvement,” said Oliva, the leader of the House redistricting effort.

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