House OKs its version of Senate districts but opens door to compromise

John Kennedy | Palm Beach Post | 11/03/2015

TALLAHASSEE —The Florida House approved a proposal Tuesday for redrawing Senate districts that diverges sharply from the Senate version but left the door open for negotiations on a compromise while the special session continues this week.

The plan approved 73-47 by the House is particularly different from what the Senate narrowly OK’d last week in dealing with Palm Beach County and other South Florida seats.

The House and Senate already have dueled this year over health care, battled through a costly extra session on the state budget and tried two go-arounds on redistricting, the first ending in a bitter stalemate.

Now, with lawmakers slated to end their three-week session Friday, the clash over the Senate map could set up yet another deadlock between Republican leaders in the two chambers.

“It seems like we’re stuck in a Groundhog Day movie here in Tallahassee,” Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, told the House, citing the 1993 film that depicted a man doomed to repeat the same day over and over again.

House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami, said he couldn’t provide Berman and other skeptics “that kind of assurance,” when asked if an accord could be reached between the two sides.

But Oliva emphasized, “This is a map that will stand up to the Constitution and a map, I believe, that the Senate will pass.”

Moments after approving the plan, the House formally asked the Senate to accept the proposal or agree to a conference committee of senators and representatives who could try to settle differences.

Senate leaders didn’t immediately respond. The Senate is scheduled to go back into session Wednesday to consider the House plan.

“I don’t know if we are standing at the end…or we are standing here just at the middle of this process,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.

A coalition of voters’ groups largely successful since 2012 in challenging the Legislature’s congressional and Senate redistricting plans, this week submitted a handful of boundary proposals. They argued their approaches are more compact, keep more communities together and shun partisan influence, while reducing Republican dominance in the Senate.

Those maps will be part of an eventual review by courts overseeing the Senate redistricting effort as part of a legal settlement between the chamber’s Republican leaders and the voters’ groups.

In Palm Beach County, the House map would change the political landscape.

The district now held by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, would be moved out of its current Jupiter-Tequesta area, instead comprising Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties, an approach also included in the Senate’s plan.

But the three remaining Palm Beach County districts, currently held by Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, Joe Abruzzo of Wellington and Maria Sachs of Delray Beach, would undergo changes more severe than that advanced by the Senate.

Under the House plan, all three lawmakers would have their residences lumped into the same central county district, which is similar to the one Clemens holds.

Another district boundary includes Abruzzo’s current, western county region but also courses south into Boca Raton and northern Broward County, areas that Sachs currently represents.

The county’s third seat would represent northeast Palm Beach County, taking in part of West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach and such Republican-leaning communities as Jupiter, Tequesta, Juno Beach and Palm Beach Gardens, making it less appealing for a Democratic candidate.

The House proposal also ignores changes tucked into the Senate plan in Miami-Dade County by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. The lawmaker said he wanted to bolster Hispanic turnout in three seats – but the move also separated him from two other senators who initially were combined in the same district, raising criticism that it was politically driven.

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