Divided Florida House passes new Senate map

The Associated Press | Tampa Tribune | 11/03/2015

TALLAHASSEE – Rushing to meet a looming deadline, the Republican-controlled Florida House on Tuesday passed a new map that sets boundaries for the state’s 40 Senate districts.

Legislators are in the final week of a 19-day special session that was called to resolve a three-year legal battle over the Senate map. Leaders called the session after the Senate conceded in court filings this summer that the current districts violate the state’s constitution.

The House passed the new Senate map, 73-47. The decision was largely along party lines, but eight Republicans sided with Democrats in opposing the proposal.

Democrats contended that the latest map won’t fare any better than previous ones adopted by Republicans. The top lawyer for the groups that sued the Legislature has already said the proposal would “perpetrate an unconstitutional status quo.” The House map makes changes to districts in Miami-Dade, Duval and the Panhandle that have drawn scrutiny from some legislators.

But top House Republicans brushed aside the criticisms.

“We believe we have a good constitutionally compliant map,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. “I think we have put together a map that we very much can defend.”

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 requiring compact political districts that aren’t drawn to benefit parties or incumbents. This is the third time that legislators have been forced to redraw state Senate districts in the past three years.

The state Supreme Court rejected their initial effort and forced legislators to return that same year. Then a coalition of groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, filed a lawsuit in 2012 against the second Senate map. The Legislature settled the case this summer shortly before it was scheduled to go to trial.

Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, joked on the House floor that it was “Groundhog Day,” the 90’s movie where the main character keeps reliving the same day over again. Berman predicted that the House map would be rejected by the courts and urged other legislators to vote it down.

It’s not clear, however, if the map will even get a positive vote form the Senate. It has several differences from a proposal that barely made it through the Senate a week ago, including that it does not divide several Miami-Dade communities in the same way. The House and Senate deadlocked back in August over a new congressional map and that dispute is now pending in the state Supreme Court.

Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican in charge of the Senate redistricting efforts, said that senators have a “few issues” to work out with the House. But Rep. Jose Oliva, the Miami Republican in charge of House redistricting, predicted that the Senate would accept the changes while Crisafulli downplayed any tensions between the two chambers.

If the Legislature does approve the map it will likely be challenged by the same group that sued legislators before.

David King, the lawyer for the coalition of groups, submitted a rival map to the House on the eve of the vote. That proposal relied on more up-to-date voter data and created an additional seat in Miami-Dade that could be won by a Hispanic politician.

Oliva, however, said the groups that sued the Legislature were “not an honest player in this process.” He said the coalition did not want the Legislature to pass a map, but instead was trying to “manipulate the judicial process.”

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