Redistricting session could be a dogfight

James Call | Tallahassee Democrat | 10/17/2015

The Florida Legislature will start a special session Monday at noon. Lawmakers scheduled three weeks for redrawing 40 state senate seats after the Florida Supreme Court found they violated anti-gerrymandering laws when they redrew congressional districts after the 2010 census. The decision prompted the Senate to end a second lawsuit challenging the senate map.

“As a lawyer I understand you have to judge future outcomes from past outcomes,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, chair of the redistricting committee.

Galvano said it was “prudent” to withdraw from the court fight and call a session to redraw senate districts consistent with the law and recent court decisions.

There are six proposed maps for lawmakers to consider. None will affect the 11 counties of Senate District 3, which includes Tallahassee and the Big Bend. The proposals could slightly alter the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans enjoy a 26 – 14 super majority.

Voters’ preference in the 2012 presidential elections would give the GOP the edge in at least 22 districts under the proposals on the table. Democrats would be favor in at least 15 districts with 3 becoming tossups. Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner said a Senate redistricting session may be a recipe for a dog fight.

“You are talking about 40 different districts (and) then everybody has a vested interest in their own district,” said Joyner. “It’s not going to be Kumbaya, so we’ll see what happens.”

A coalition of voter groups sued challenging the senate and congressional maps lawmakers created. The coalition charged the Legislature violated the Fair Districts amendment calling for compact districts respecting city and county boundaries when possible and that don’t improperly favor a party or candidate.

Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis presided over the congressional suit and has submitted a congressional map to the Supreme Court. Lewis’s ruling addressed the tier one (improper partisan intent) and tier two (incorporate geographic and political boundaries) complaints that produced the lawsuit.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said Lewis’s ruling provides lawmakers a blueprint for complying with the law and ending the redistricting fight.

“The law, the rules, the court decisions, they are rather specific and it’s just a matter of us working within those restraints, if you will, and doing it right,” said Montford, who sits on the joint redistricting committee.

“It may be painful and disconcerting to some, but we owe it to the people of Florida to get this out of the way so we can get to work on other issues.”

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