Florida House Speaker rejects idea of another special session

Mary Ellen Klas | Miami Herald | 09/08/2015

TALLAHASSEE - Citing key differences in interpretation of the court's redistricting ruling, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli sent a letter to members Tuesday saying he is not interested in calling another special session on congressional redistricting unless the Senate is willing to adopt the House's map.

"Until and unless there is more direction from the Supreme Court, the most prudent course of action is to act on the map that was the joint work product of our two chambers,'' Crisafulli wrote to his counterpart Senate President Andy Gardiner, in a Sept. 1 letter released on Tuesday.

Crisafulli attached the letter in an email to House members, explaining that the difference between the two chambers is their interpretation of how much flexibility the court gives lawmakers to fix the congressional map the court invalidated in its ruling in July.

The House disagrees with the Senate that the Florida Supreme Court ruling “gives members more leeway to influence regions of the map for community interests,” he said.

The court ruled that the burden now falls on lawmakers to prove that they are not intentionally trying to protect Republicans. In that regard, Crisafulli told Gardiner that he does not “question the motives of any Senator, but I am not convinced that a public meeting and audiotapes of meetings with Senate staff [but not meetings between Senators] will satisfy a skeptical court.”

After lawmakers reached an impasse over a final map in August, the high court on Friday ordered the trial court to review the rival maps submitted by the House and Senate and the “parties” and recommend either the best map, or the best

components of them all.

The court also opened the door to the state Senate’s request to conduct another special session on redistricting, as long as the work is completed by the Oct. 17 deadline the court set in July.

Gardiner, R-Orlando, renewed his call for another special session on Friday and last week Senate Redistricting Chairman Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, proposed a “compromise” map intended to address the House’s concerns that the Senate map did not apply consistent standards throughout the state when drawing the map.

On Tuesday, Gardiner said in a statement that he believes Galvano’s proposal to be “more constitutionally compliant” than the House’s map as drawn by staff.

But Crisafulli all but rejected that approach.

“If the Supreme Court were to give us more time, we might be able to meet to hash out remaining concerns with the post-session map offered by Chair Galvano,” he said in his letter to members. But, he suggested, that “in redistricting, unlike other legislative matters, the final arbiter of legislative intent is the Florida Supreme Court.”

House Reapportionment Committee Chairman Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said that while Galvano’s map “is an improvement,” it is fraught with problems.

“To return to a special session and fall right back where we had the impasse would not be good for the process and it would not help advance the prerogative of the Legislature in drawing these maps,’’ he said in an interview with the Herald/Times.

“We don’t know how many senators are in support of that. There’s not been some great outcry form the Senate as a whole,” he said. “The fact that it was not done during a legislative process is also a concern.”

Oliva said that while he is not supportive of the high level of scrutiny the court has imposed on the Legislature’s redistricting process, by shifting the burden to them to prove they did not intend to protect incumbents or political parties, the House’s map is the least likely to be rejected by the court.

“We have to draw maps that show consistent methodology from one end of state to another and meet those high levels of scrutiny,” he said. “The process by which the base map was done was a sound process and will hold up on the stand.”

By contrast, the Senate modified the base map drawn by House and Senate staff by including changes pursued by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, to Hillsborough County that House leaders believe could be interpreted by the court as being done to benefit an incumbent or a political party.

Crisafulli suggested to Gardiner that lawmakers had little choice but to move forward with a staff-drawn base map drawn by staff according to the guidelines from the court as they interpreted them.

Crisafulli did not mention that the Senate has admitted failing to follow the rules of the Fair Districts amendments and has agreed to call a special session in October to redraw the Senate map, or that court documents show that the secretive redistricting process conducted by political operatives had potentially influenced the Senate maps.

“Maybe the burden of proof the Supreme Court placed on the Legislature during the remedial process is too great,’’ Crisafulli wrote to Gardiner. “Maybe Amendments 5 and 6 were written in such a way to be impossible for the Legislature to fulfill.

Maybe the real agenda of the authors of Amendments 5 and 6 is, as many have long feared, to take the process out of the hands of elected officials and transfer the duty to the courts.

“I do not know the answers to these questions, but I do not think a remedial Special Session is the time to argue these important issues or test these court-imposed limits.”

Absent another special session, expect Lewis to issue a scheduling order soon on when he will hold a hearing on the “proposed remedial plans” from the House and Senate, as well as any amendments offered to them.

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