House And Senate Working On A Map Bargain

Nick Evans | WFSU | 08/19/2015

Wednesday was a busy day for lawmakers at the Florida Capitol. The Senate passed its draft of the state’s congressional borders, House lawmakers left the door open to compromise, and Democrats argued for an independent commission when the state takes its next crack at redrawing the map.

During floor debate Tuesday, some House lawmakers took exception to the Senate’s efforts to alter staff-drawn congressional borders. But Wednesday Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon) defended his chamber’s actions.

“Let’s not let this come down to a pride of authorship question,” Lee said, “or for goodness sakes, suggest that we were all sent up here simply to adopt and rubber stamp a map that was drawn by three people on the 20th floor that’s going to affect 20 million people that we were all elected to represent.”

Lee authored the revisions added to the so-called base map passed out of the House earlier this week. Now the House and Senate redistricting committee chairs are looking for middle ground.

They got their first chance to haggle over the state’s congressional borders Wednesday afternoon. And perhaps surprisingly, the bitterness and acrimony that has characterized relations between the chambers all year may be giving way to cautious optimism.

House Select Committee on Redistricting Chair Jose Oliva (R-Miami Lakes) says his members might be willing to take up a Senate proposal making a handful of changes to Tampa Bay area congressional districts.

“It’s clear to see that already there was at least two cities that were not split that were split in the base map,” Oliva says. “So, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I can say that that’s an improvement.”

But Oliva remains cagey, noting the House wants to be sure the changes will meet constitutional muster.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are calling for an independent redistricting commission. Hollywood Democrat Evan Jenne has already filed a bill for the 2016 session.

“It’s a rotten process, it’s a defiled process,” Jenne says. “It has to be reformed, and it needs to be drastic.”

“You know this isn’t akin to a scratch,” he went on, “this is serious—this is a serious illness we face in this building now and drastic measures are required.”

Democrats say discontent across the aisle shows the process needs to be changed, but so far there’s been scant support for an independent commission among Republicans. If passed, Florida would join states like California and Arizona with similar agencies.

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