Florida Legislators Fail to Agree on Congressional Districts

LIZETTE ALVAREZ | The New York Times | 08/21/2015

MIAMI — Florida’s House and Senate on Friday failed to agree on a new congressional map mandated by the state’s Supreme Court, bringing to a futile close a legislative special session created to redraw congressional districts the court said were unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

In another sign of discord between feuding Republican leaders, the two chambers snubbed each other’s redrawn maps for the state’s 27 congressional districts and could not agree on last-ditch efforts to present a unified plan to the court on Tuesday. Instead, the House and Senate are expected to offer their own maps separately.

The court has several options: It could accept one of the maps presented on Tuesday or be forced to draw its own version of a map. It also could extend the deadline and send the Legislature back into another special session. The Legislature was given until October 17 to produce a map but its first deadline is on Tuesday.

“If we don’t come to a resolution we will move into unchartered territories with the courts drawing a congressional map,” said the Senate president, Andy Gardiner, at the conclusion of the special session.

The impasse was the result of a disagreement over one particular amendment by State Senator Tom Lee to reconfigure a United States House district in his area east of Tampa. The changed district would pit two Republican House members against each other in a primary, placing the residence of one of them, Representative Dennis Ross, just on the wrong side of the new district line. Mr. Lee said the change creates a more compact district.

House Republican leaders, though, said the new district was not consistent with how others were created and chose not to make the change in their map.

Calling the Senate map “flawed,” Steve Crisafulli, the House speaker, said in a statement that by applying inconsistent methodologies, “we open ourselves up to the exact type of criticism and adverse decisions” the court found in its ruling last month.

Despite the drama, the new map is not likely to have a big impact on the partisan makeup of Florida’s congressional delegation. Democrats may pick up a couple of seats as a result of the new lines, including one now held by a vulnerable Republican, recently elected Representative David Jolly, in the St. Petersburg area, who has announced a United States Senate run, experts say.

In July, the State Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to redraw eight Congressional districts after ruling that the Legislature had designed the boundaries to favor Republicans and incumbents, against the wishes of Florida voters. It required strict rules, including that all discussions about the map be open to public scrutiny. The Legislature was sued in 2012 by a coalition led by the League of Women Voters, which accused Republicans of violating the state Constitution.

The State Supreme Court ruling is being challenged by Representative Corrine Brown, Democrat of Florida, whose Jacksonville-based district will be the most greatly changed. Ms. Brown said that plans to reconfigure the district would hamper the ability of minorities to elect a candidate of their choice.

Voters, fed up with the Legislature’s history of creating boundaries for partisan purposes, approved in 2010 two constitutional amendments. They called for compact districts drawn without intentional favoritism toward political parties or incumbents. But Republican lawmakers ignored that mandate, and they and their consultants were found by the court to have aggressively manipulated the process.

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