Redistricting session collapses amid acrimony

Dan Sweeney | Sun Sentinel | 08/21/2015

Florida lawmakers on Friday conceded defeat on passing congressional district maps and are heading home after a noon deadline ended the session.

Unless the Legislature calls another special session, it will likely fall to the courts to draw the map.

The day started at 9 a.m. with Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the Senate’s redistricting committee chair, asking his fellow senators to reject a proposed map from the House and insist the House adopt the Senate’s version. Senators agreed to the proposal, and the two sides went into a meeting.

It quickly grew tense.

“It certainly sounds like we are no closer than yesterday,” state Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, the House’s redistricting committee chair.

He and Galvano began to talk over each other and, finally, Galvano called for a formal conference committee and the senators left the room mid-meeting.

In order to hold the conference committee, the legislature had to extend the session, but the map must be drawn by Aug. 25, a deadline imposed by the courts.

Just after 10:30, the Senate voted to extend the session until 6 p.m. Aug. 25.

The House convened at 11 a.m., and it had two choices — vote for the Senate map, or vote to extend the session through Tuesday.

Stunningly, it chose to do neither.

"I cannot say that we should extend," Oliva said. "I cannot support a motion to extend, knowing what I know, knowing what the differences are."

The House voted 3-99 not to extend the session and sent the Senate back the same House-designed map.

The Senate then voted again to extend session, and sent an entirely new map to the House.

The House rejected both proposals again.

"We'll be back here in October to do this again," Speaker Steve Crisafulli said of the coming special session to draw state Senate districts. "And I expect to do it the same way."

The primary disagreement was over the Senate's proposed changes in Central Florida. The Senate map called for extending a congressional district in Hillsborough County to cover all the eastern portion of the county. To do so, the district also pulled southward and another district had to move in, over a county line, to cover the gap.

Oliva called the decision to use county lines in Hillsborough but draw over them elsewhere "an inconsistency."

Oliva said that he felt the Senate map would not hold up to the scrutiny of the courts, and that as long as it is under court order, the legislature should adhere to the Florida Supreme Court suggestions as closely as possible.

"The Senate feels very strongly about this being a legislative process," Oliva said. "Our consideration has been the end product."

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