Speaker Crisafulli: Not enough time for new congressional maps session

Gary Rohrer | Orlando Sentinel | 09/08/2015

TALLAHASSEE – House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is prepared to present his chambers’ preferred congressional districts map to a lower court, and doesn’t think there’s enough time to hash out a compromise with the Senate over how to redraw the districts.

In a letter sent to House members Tuesday, Crisafulli stated that since the Florida Supreme Court didn’t extend the Sept. 25 deadline for the Legislature to complete its redistricting task, there was no way to reach consensus with the Senate over the maps.

Lawmakers met for a two-week special session in August to redraw Florida’s 27 congressional districts after the previous maps were thrown out by the courts.

The session ended in turmoil without new maps being drawn after the House, which preferred a “base map” drawn by legislative staffers with slight tweaks by lawmakers, refused to go along with a Senate plan to alter the base map to keep Sarasota County and eastern Hillsborough County in their own districts. Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the Senate’s lead negotiator, abruptly walked away from Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, on the last day of session as tensions between the chambers rose.

“There is no additional information or different legal guidance since the end of Session that convinces me or Chair Oliva that the House should change its position.

We continue to maintain that the base map, with the House amendment that incorporated some of the Senate’s changes, is the best map to present to Judge Lewis,” the letter states.

Crisafulli sent a letter to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, last week indicating the chambers could be able to reach an agreement on the districts if the Florida Supreme Court gave them more time.

Gardiner had asked Crisafulli to reconvene a special session to reach an agreement after Galvano filed a new map touted as a compromise that kept Central Florida the same as in the base map but altered southwest Florida to keep Sarasota County wholly within one district.

But in a ruling Friday, the court sent the case back to a lower court for a hearing, but did not extend the deadline for lawmakers to present their map to the court.

Now, Crisafulli’s position makes it likely each chamber will present its own preferred map to the court for review, to be completed in October.

The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in July threw out the previous maps, finding that GOP operatives infiltrated the redistricting process through false pretenses, in violation of Florida’s anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendments passed by voters in 2010.

The ruling also gave lawmakers guidelines for drawing new districts, mandating District 5 – which GOP operatives packed black voters into to “bleach” surrounding Central Florida districts - go from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, instead of from Jacksonville to Orlando.

The mandates within the ruling led the House to prefer passing the work of legislative staffers, who drafted a “base map” to comply with the court ruling, rather than tinkering with the “base map.”

UPDATE: Gardiner released the following statement through a spokeswoman reiterating his preference to return in a special session to formally pass new maps:

"During the recent special session and in the days that followed, the Senate has repeatedly offered compromise solutions that are equally if not more constitutionally compliant than the base map drafted by legislative staff. 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."

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