House approves own map; is showdown near?

Gray Rohrer | Sun-Sentinel | 11/03/2015

With time winding down, the redistricting ball is back in the Senate's court, after the 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 voting against the map. The move sends the redistricting plan back to the Senate, which passed its own version last week, and increases the odds that another redistricting special session ends in stalemate without a final map passing both chambers.

Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, expressed little confidence the two chambers would find compromise.

"I think at the end of the day the court will actually pick a map, and it's nothing tht we're going to vote on here," he said.

Finding consensus between the chambers could prove difficult. In August, Senate redistricting chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, walked away from informal talks with House redistricting chair Jose Oliva to hammer out a compromise on redrawing 27 congressional districts. It effectively ended that special session.

House and Senate lawyers wound up arguing against each other in court, a rare move for the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Oral arguments in the congressional case are scheduled for next week, but the redistricting déjà vu led Democrats to assail the process and GOP colleagues for wasting time and taxpayer money by not drawing constitutionally compliant maps. Lawmakers' redistricting efforts have cost taxpayers about $11 million so far, much of which are in the form of 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, and Democrats questioned why districts in other areas of the state weren't altered.

"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.

The House-approved map differs from the Senate version in that it would:

Merge three Palm Beach County Democrats — Senators Jeff Clemens, of Lake Worth, Joseph Abruzzo, of Wellington, and Maria Sachs, of Delray Beach — into one district.

Redraw Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's district to absorb a portion of Coconut Grove Democratic Senator Gwen Margolis's region.

Republican Miami Sen. Anitere Flores's district would get redrawn to claim a portion of Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard's mostly African-American district.

The House map also would preserve an African-American majority minority district in Fort Lauderdale, now held by term-limited Sen. Chris Smith, by splitting the cities of Tamarac, Deerfield Beach and Davie. The Senate proposal would have taken that district below the 50 percent threshold.

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 – something Oliva says is unconstitutional because it reduces the Hispanic voting population below 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.

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