Feuding lawmakers take the stand in trial over Florida's disputed congressional district map

Bay News 9 | Bay News 9 | 09/24/2015

TALLAHASSEE — A trial to break a legislative impasse and decide the fate of Florida's Congressional district boundaries began Thursday, with lawyers for the dueling state House and Senate arguing in support of their chambers' respective maps.

The trial was prompted when the leaders of the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature allowed an August redistricting special session to melt down.

The House and Senate passed differing maps; each was held up as the best way to avoid judicial scrutiny. Two previous iterations of the Congressional boundaries have been struck down as unconstitutional violations of the 'Fair Districts' amendments, which outlaw the gerrymandering of districts in order to benefit incumbents and political parties.

"None of the three mapmakers had any idea of the political makeup of the population," Florida House attorney George Meros said in his opening statement Thursday.

House leaders have suggested Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon) tainted the Senate's mapmaking process by attempting to draw a Hillsborough County-based Congressional district he could later run in. The Senate's top lawyer, however, disputes that notion.

"When you have both Democrats and Republicans complaining about it, we know two things. We know that you're going to have an effect whenever you move lines and, number two, if both parties are complaining about it, it must be a pretty good map," said Raoul Cantero, the Senate attorney and a former Florida Supreme Court justice.

Legislators with influence over the latest round of redistricting deliberations, including Lee and Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) are expected to testify later in the trial.

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