Legislators return for special session questions remain

Mary Ellen Klas | Tampa Bay Times | 10/19/2015

Legislators return to the state Capitol on Monday for yet another session on redistricting. This time, they’ll be drawing the state Senate map and it's going to get difficult and personal. (Here's our set-up story on that.)

They also will use the three-week period to get some work done, in anticipation of the legislative session that begins in January — two months earlier than normal — by hearing bills and getting agency briefings in committees.

But the main event are the maps. Here are some questions we'll be asking, and watching:

• Base map, space map?

The House is focused on the base map, arguing that using a map drawn by staff in relative seclusion with only the hired attorneys at hand is the purest way to avoid improper partisan intent. The Senate is ready to agree, arguing that the maps are a starting point and that want — and expect — some refinements. What happens with the base maps and whether the House will agree to any alterations of them will be key.

• Row, row, row across Tampa Bay?

Well, it’s not exactly as dramatic as George Washingtoncrossing the Delaware but the debate over whether the Senate map should cross Tampa Bay could be pretty riveting.

Here’s why: The current District 19 held by Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner is an majority minority seat that favors African Americans. The current map created it by crossing Tampa Bay and linking communities in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in every map.

But some redistricting experts say that’s not necessary. Matt Isbell of MCI maps, who does consulting for Democrats, notes on his web site that the reason the Legislature’s maps don’t include a Hillsborough-only African American seat is because the redistricting software has left out primary election data from 2012.

The software was updated to include the 2012 and 2014 general election data but the data for the primary — which is needed to determine the performance of the Democrat-heavy district — wasn’t added.

• Friend or foe?

The six base maps drawn by staff offer up some scary prospects if you’re a sitting senator in a couple of places in the state.

In the Northeast, for example, some of the maps have Senators Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, drawn into the same district.

Senators Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby,and John Legg, R-New Port Richey, end up in the same district in some maps. Senators Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and Joe Negron, R-Stuart, end up in the same seat in one map. And it even appears that Redistricting chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is drawn into the same district as Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, in another.

Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Joe Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, are paired in two of the maps and Abruzzo and Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, is drawn together in another. And in Miami Dade, one of the maps has Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, paired up against Democrat Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, and another has Democrat Sen. Gwen Margolis, D- up against Republican Sen. Miguel de la Portilla, R-Miami.

• Room for more Hispanic districts?

Will the new map include a Hispanic-majority district in Central Florida? Will it draw a fourth Hispanic district in South Florida? The question is important because the federal Voting Rights Act requires that if a minority majority seat can be drawn, it must be. But some of the base maps eliminate the current Hispanic-dominated district in Orlando and none of them draw a fourth Hispanic seat in Miami.

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