House balks at another redistricting session

Brandon Larrabee | Tallahassee Democrat | 09/09/2015

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli on Tuesday all but ruled out a special session to take another stab at drawing new districts for Florida’s congressional delegation, making it increasingly likely that the task will fall to the courts.

In a memo sent to state House members, Crisafulli indicated he would not back off a demand that lawmakers approve a “base map” aimed at satisfying a July Supreme Court ruling, which found that existing congressional districts violate the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” standards approved by voters in 2010.

During a special session last month, senators tried to amend the base map, but House leaders said that could cause the courts to strike down districts again. The session imploded after the House and Senate failed to reach agreement.

The Supreme Court on Friday sent the redistricting issue back to Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who has overseen long-running litigation about the congressional map. But justices left open the possibility that lawmakers still could go into special session and agree on districts.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has repeatedly urged the House to once again try to craft lines to avoid a situation where Lewis could select one of the Legislature’s maps; back a plan proposed by voting-rights organizations that sued to overturn the current lines; or decide to draw the lines himself.

But Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said that unless the Florida Supreme Court extended a mid-October deadline for a new map to be reviewed by the justices, it would be difficult to “hash out remaining concerns” the House had with the Senate’s proposal.

“It is possible that the Senate will agree to another special session to pass the map that the House adopted with overwhelming and bipartisan support,” Crisafulli wrote in the memo.

“President Gardiner, Chair Galvano, Senate attorneys and Senate court filings have consistently emphasized the Senate’s willingness and support for issuing a proclamation to reconvene the Legislature so the House and Senate can resolve minor differences, pass a compromise map and meet the Legislature’s constitutional obligation to the people of our state,” a spokesman for Gardiner wrote in an email Tuesday.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the Legislature asked a federal judge to dismiss or pause a lawsuit by Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who is trying to block the redrawing of her district, which now ambles from Jacksonville to Orlando but will likely be redrawn to run east to west across the top of the state.

The attorneys said it was too early for Brown to launch her challenge because a new map hasn’t become law.

Brown’s lawyers asked last week for the court to delay hearing the case, but not to dismiss it. Even if the case is dismissed, lawyers for the Legislature said it should be done in way that would allow Brown to re-file her case later.

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