House redistricting lines veer away from Senate plan

Brandon Larrabee | St. Augustine Record | 11/03/2015

TALLAHASSEE — The House redistricting committee voted along party lines Monday to approve its version of new districts for the state Senate, potentially setting up a battle with the upper chamber as a special session on the map entered its final week.

On a 9-4 vote, the Select Committee on Redistricting’s Republican majority pushed through a proposal by Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, that sets aside a compromise on South Florida seats struck in the Senate last week.

That compromise, which supporters say protected Hispanic voting strength but opponents said was a crass political move, helped boost a plan that passed the Senate on a narrow 22-18 margin.

Speaking to reporters after Monday’s meeting, Oliva said he was trying to answer both the concerns of the Senate and two voting-rights organizations that brought a legal challenge against the current map, drawn in 2012. The Legislature eventually settled that suit, saying it was likely that the 2012 plan would be found in violation of a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering.

The House says its version of the redistricting plan is similar to the Senate bill in most districts. Another 12 districts in South Florida resemble seats proposed by the voting-rights organizations.

But in a letter late Monday to Oliva and Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, an attorney for the coalition of voting-rights groups said they were not satisfied with either the House or the Senate plans. David King wrote that his clients had submitted two new maps, both of which would include a fourth district in South Florida intended to let Hispanic voters elect a candidate of their choice.

“Moreover, the coalition believes the Legislature may violate the Florida Constitution if the Legislature neglects to create a fourth majority-minority Hispanic district in South Florida, in light of the evident ability to draw such a district,” King wrote.

One of the coalition’s maps also attempts to show a district favoring candidates preferred by black voters that doesn’t cross Tampa Bay — a difference from districts in the House and Senate plan.

Senators hammered out a compromise in Miami-Dade County last week, after Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla complained that the Senate’s first draft would decrease Hispanic voting strength in one of three districts meant to elect candidates preferred by Latinos.

Critics said those concerns were overblown, and also noted that the map moved the home of Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, out of a district with two other incumbent senators.

Far from defending the Senate maps at Monday’s meeting, House Democrats simply argued that Oliva didn’t go far enough in overhauling the proposal. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Gables, argued that the House should use the first map proposed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida, instead of picking out certain districts.

The two voting-rights groups floated the map hours before the Senate’s final vote on its version of the lines.

“The Senate didn’t have the benefit of this map when they voted,” Moskowitz said before withdrawing an amendment that used the organizations’ map. “So I think, let’s send it to them and let’s see what they do with it.”

After the meeting, Moskowitz wouldn’t speculate on whether the House was trying to provoke another meltdown and throw the map into the courts. But, like many Senate Democrats, he predicted it would end up there anyway.

“Every map that has been drawn by the Legislature, in the congressional hearing and now in the Senate hearing, is a map that probably isn’t going to fly in court,” he said.

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