Legislature reaches special session impasse, no new congressional map

Tia Mitchell | The Florida Times Union | 08/22/2015

TALLAHASSEE — Florida legislators adjourned special session on Friday without coming to agreement on a new congressional map, creating a possibility that the Florida Supreme Court will draw the lines itself.

Members of the House pointed fingers at the Senate and vice versa; each chamber accused the other refusing to compromise. Members now return to their districts after a two-week special session with no finished product to show their constituents.

“It looks bad on all of us when we go home, but it was all rejected,” Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, said. “And if they (in the House) could just find it in their heart to have a conversation with us, we could be a lot further along right now. It’s sad for the people of Florida when one chamber is constantly telling you ‘no’ and not giving you an explanation.”

But House members said it was the Senate that walked away from discussions early Friday. The chairman of each chamber’s redistricting committee — Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Brandenton, and Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah — sat down briefly to discuss their latest proposals.

The meeting ended quickly when it became clear that neither chairman was willing to bend. Oliva said the Senate map appeared to violate portions of the Florida Supreme Court ruling that necessitated special session. Galvano fired back that the House had second-guessed the Senate from the start and never appeared open to its suggestions.

He then got up from the table abruptly, and other senators in the room followed suit.

Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, said later that the senators’ actions demonstrated an unwillingness to stay and work out differences. The two chambers each had their own versions of the maps that were generally aligned except when it came to how to draw districts along the Interstate 4 corridor in Central Florida.

“That’s a question for the Senate to answer why they walked out on negotiations and we’re still standing here waiting for them,” Fant said just minutes before the special session expired at noon.

This was the second time this year the Legislature adjourned in controversy. The House abruptly ended the special session three days early without a finalized budget because of disagreement with the Senate on whether to expand Medicaid.

The Legislature returned for a June special session and ironed out a spending plan.

The Supreme Court gave lawmakers a small window in which to improve the congressional map and a new plan is due to the court Tuesday.

It was the Legislature’s third, and likely final, opportunity to draw congressional maps. The previous attempts were thrown out in court for failing to adhere to the Fair Districts Amendment, which makes it illegal to draw districts that favor a political party or individual candidate.

Justices will return to court in the coming weeks and review the work product from the failed special session. There is a chance the Supreme Court will choose its preference between the House and the Senate versions. Or, justices could decide that without the Legislature reaching an agreement it is left up to the court to decide how the boundary lines will be drawn.

Either way, it is not likely that U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s district will lose the east-west configuration that the court insisted upon and both the House and the Senate embraced during the special session. Brown, D-Jacksonville, has challenged those changes in federal court, but no hearings have been scheduled.

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