TALLAHASSEE – With time winding down, the redistricting ball is back in the Senate’s court, after a divided House voted 73-47 Tuesday on its own proposal to redraw 40 Senate districts.
The House and Senate have until Friday, the scheduled end of the special session, to work out the differences in their maps and avoid another costly stalemate over redrawing political boundaries.
Eight Republicans joined all 39 Democrats in voting against the map. The move sends the redistricting plan back to the Senate, which passed its own version last week. The differing plans increase the odds that another redistricting special session will end in stalemate without a final map passing both chambers.
In August, Senate redistricting chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, walked away from talks with Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, to work out a compromise on redrawing 27 congressional districts, effectively ending that special session.
House and Senate lawyers ended up arguing against each other in court. Oral arguments in the congressional case are scheduled for next week before the Florida Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, the redistricting déjà vu led Democrats to assail the process and GOP colleagues for wasting time and taxpayer money. So far, redistricting efforts have cost taxpayers about $11 million, much of that in attorney’s fees.
“It feels like we’re stuck in the ‘Groundhog Day’ movie,” said Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana.
Most of the differences center on changes in districts in South Florida, especially Miami-Dade County.
“It has our greatest, most diverse population – an ever-changing population – so certainly you’re going to have some concerns from people that are in that area,” Oliva said.
Although the Senate and House versions have similar district lines in Central Florida, some Democrats have complained they eliminate a Hispanic minority district in the Orlando area.
In Orange County, the number of Senate districts is reduced from five to three, with two wholly within the county. One generally runs from the county line east to I-4. An adjacent district runs from I-4 to the eastern county line, bounded by State Road 528 to the south. A third district runs from State Road 528 south to include all of Osceola County.
Lawmakers are in a special session to redraw the districts after Senate leaders admitted the maps drawn in 2012 violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions passed by voters in 2010. The Fair Districts amendments call for new districts to be drawn as compact as possible without the intent to hurt or harm incumbents, political parties or minority groups.
If House and Senate leaders reach a deal on the Senate districts, they still face further review by the courts.
The League of Women Voters and Common Cause, the voters rights groups that brought the lawsuit against the maps, have filed three alternative plans with the Legislature.
Oliva said his map includes some of their changes to make districts throughout the state more compact, but he also chided the groups for not appearing before the Legislature’s hearings to draw new maps and filing new maps in the last week of the special session.
“I would say there is certainly gamesmanship, there is no doubt,” Oliva said. “I don’t believe the plaintiffs want to see a legislatively approved map. I think that they’re using the legislative process of the people to manipulate the judicial process of the people.”
In a letter to legislative leaders, David King, attorney for the League of Women Voters, urged lawmakers to consider their maps, which add a fourth Hispanic district in Miami-Dade. Oliva says that is unconstitutional because it reduces the Hispanic voting population to less than 50 percent in one district.
“The citizens of Florida deserve what the Florida Constitution requires — the opportunity to vote for candidates in non-partisan, constitutionally compliant districts in 2016,” the letter states.