Senate passes own congressional maps, tussle with House awaits

Gray Rohrer | Orlando Sentinel | 08/20/2015

TALLAHASSEE – A day after the House passed its version of 27 congressional districts, the Senate voted 28-8 Wednesday on its own version, setting up a clash between the two chambers over the differing lines.

A handful of Democrats voted against the maps, worried about the reduction of minority groups’ representation in Florida’s congressional delegation.

“I’ve seen how a Democrat or even a Republican can work their tail off and still not win the support of certain ethnic groups. It’s just a part of history,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

There was more griping from Republicans about the Florida Supreme Court decision throwing out the old maps, but GOP members said they had to abide by the ruling nonetheless.

“The referees are wearing the same color jersey as the other team,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, referring to the Florida Supreme Court.

The court ruled in July that GOP operatives used proxies to publicly submit maps favoring Republicans and destroyed records relating to redistricting, in violation of the Fair Districts amendments passed by voters in 2010 prohibiting districts from being drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor incumbents, political parties or minority groups.

Included in the ruling was a mandate to draw District 5, which meanders from Jacksonville down into Orlando to produce a minority-majority district for African-Americans, from east to west instead of from north to south.

That means the new District 5 runs from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, and old parts of the district that were in Central Florida are swallowed up by surrounding

districts, mainly by District 10.

In the base map, which passed the House on Monday, District 10, currently held by U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Orlando, stops at Orange County’s western border. The Senate version pushes the district into Lake County picking up more white voters and losing more Hispanic voters in Orange County.

The changes in the Senate plan mean District 9, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, R-Orlando, gains more Hispanic voters in Orange County from District 10 and loses portions of Polk County, compared to the House maps.

Although relations between House and Senate Republicans remain tense after a fierce battle earlier this year over health care, some local House members expressed support for the changes made by the Senate.

Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, though not pleased that Lake County is split into three districts, prefers the Senate version drawing District 10 into an Orange County district. Lake County fits more with the Orlando metro area rather than in a district that includes Polk and Hillsborough counties, he said.

Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, also backed the changes to District 10, since it means more Hispanic voters are kept in District 9.

“Using State Road 436 as the dividing line where you’re splitting the Puerto Rican and Hispanic community - the Senate’s amendment moves that line further west thus not splitting up that particular Hispanic bloc in the Orlando area, so that’s a positive right there,” Cortes said.

House and Senate leaders, though, are running out of time to reconcile the differences between the two maps. The special session to redraw the congressional districts ends Friday at noon.

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