House leader stands firm

Lloyd Dunkelberger | The Ledger | 09/08/2015

TALLAHASSEE — Chances for a second special session on congressional redistricting dimmed on Tuesday, with House Speaker Steve Crisafulli telling members the House and Senate remain at odds over changes to the map.

“There is no additional information or different legal guidance since the end of session that convinces me or (House Redistricting) Chair (Jose) Oliva that the House should change its position,” Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in a memo to the 120 House members. “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.”

Crisafulli’s comments increase the already strong likelihood that the final congressional map will be worked out by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, subject to review by the state Supreme Court.

The memo comes after Friday’s ruling by the Supreme Court that sent the congressional redistricting case back to Lewis’ court, although the justices said lawmakers could hold another special session, although it would have to occur under the 100-day deadline that expires Oct. 17. The court ruling came after lawmakers failed to pass a congressional map in a two-week special session in August.

In a letter to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, last week, Crisafulli outlined the major differences between the two chambers, with the House asserting the base map, created by House and Senate staff members, produced “a joint work product free of any questions of intent” that would violate the state constitutional prohibition against gerrymandering.

Crisafulli said the Senate continued to assert it had the right to change the base map but House leaders believe it would be “almost impossible” to prove the intent of changes aimed at certain communities was “motivated by a desire to help constituents or to further a political goal.”

Crisafulli said a “compromise” map advanced by Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was an improvement from prior Senate maps but that the House still had legal questions that would have to be resolved. And Crisafulli noted the Supreme Court did not give lawmakers any extra time, which had been a request by the House.

Crisafulli left open the small possibility of another special session if the Senate would agree to pass the amended House base map, which would split Sarasota County into two congressional districts. The Senate maps have kept Sarasota within one congressional district.

Gardiner said on Friday that the Senate remains open to holding another special session to resolve the Senate and House differences over the map.

Lawmakers return to Tallahassee next week for a series of committee meetings in preparation for the 2016 regular session. They face another three-week special session to redraw state Senate districts on Oct. 19.

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