TALLAHASSEE Florida legislators made quick progress on redrawing the Senate map Tuesday, voting out a Florida House proposal after just an hour of debate, but the measure appeared headed for trouble as lawmakers edged closer to the self-imposed Friday deadline for the special session with no agreement in sight.
Eight Republicans joined with 39 House Democrats to reject the House map, S9079, as 73 Republicans supported it. The map, proposed by House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, attempts to follow the anti-gerrymandering guidelines of the Florida Constitution and includes three Miami-based Hispanic-majority seats, and four black majority-minority districts.
"It feels like we're stuck in a Groundhog Day movie,'' said Rep. Lori Berman, D-West Palm Beach. "Once again our chamber and the Senate have two different maps."
The full Senate is expected to reject the House plan, then call for a conference committee to work out differences before the end of the week. Lawmakers called themselves into a three-week special session the second redistrictign session this year to revise the Senate map after a lawsuit brought by a coalition of voter groups prompted them to conclude that the plan they enacted in 2012 violates the Florida Constitution.
The House map would place all of Manatee County and northern Sarasota County in a new District 23, in which Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton would be the incumbent.
The rest of Sarasota would be in a districts with Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades and Hendry counties.
The proposed House plan has drawn criticism from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate for targeting certain Republican incumbents, and for weakening the Hispanic vote in Miami Dade County.
"The Oliva map eliminates one of three existing Hispanic seats by packing proposed District 40 and cracking the Hipsanic vote in proposed District 37,'' said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables.
He had proposed changes to Miami districts that were approved by the Senate and was one of three key swing votes needed to pass the Senate plan. The changes also removed him from being drawn into the same district as Sens. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay.
But when the House rejected his changes, Diaz de la Portilla said he has concluded that the new House version will violate the constitution because it reduces, instead of strengthens, minority voting strength.
"The Oliva map diminishes the ability of Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice in one of three Hispanic seats in Miami Dade,'' he said. "I can't support a retrogressive map."
Oliva disagreed, saying the three proposed Hispanic districts in Miami Dade have voting age populations of 50.1 percent (District 35,) 88.2 percent (District 36), and 85 percent (District 40.)
He also noted that there are two districts that will elect blacks: District 34 with 50.7 percent black voting age population and District 38, with 39.5 black voting age population.
In South Florida, the House map could create some disruption for incumbent senators. It merges Diaz de la Portilla with Sen.Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove. It puts Sen.Anitere Flores, D-Miami, into a blackmajority-minority seat now held by Sen.Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay and it also force the Democrats of Palm Beach County Sens.Joe Abruzzo, Jeff ClemensandMaria Sachs into the same districts. In Tampa Bay, it puts Sen. John Legg, R-New Port Richey, into the same district as Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
Adding to the drama was a last-minute proposal submitted by the challengers late Monday that could be a game changer for Florida's Republican-controlled government if it is approved by the courts.
The proposals could create either 20-20 Democratic parity with Republicans in the 40-member Senate, or give Democrats a 21-19 edge in the state's upper chamber.
The court, which will review the map proposed by the Legislature and give final approval, has selected the challengers' map over the Legislature's maps when the House and Senate could not agree on a congressional proposal.
Now, the coalition, led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, claim their proposals are an improvement over the maps voted out by the Senate or the House but they could also create either 20-20 Democratic parity with Republicans in the 40-member Senate, or give Democrats a 21-19 edge in the state's upper chamber.
Both maps also create a fourth Hispanic seat in South Florida, one that leans Democratic, a change the coalition said was necessarily required by the constitutional requirement to protection minority voting rights. One map, CP-2, creates a Hillsborough-only seat that could elect an African American, without crossing Tampa Bay to link black communities together in both south Tampa and South Pinellas.
"There is still time to draw and enact a remedial Senate map that is constitutionally compliant, rather than perpetuate an unconstitutional status quo under the guise of attempted compliance,'' wrote David King, the lead attorney for the challengers in a letter to Oliva and Galvano, the Senate Reapportionment Committee chairman.
But after the vote, Oliva blasted the challengers for the last-minute map as an attempt to manipulate the judicial process to give them an advantage in court.
"The bottom line is that I don't believe the plaintiffs want to see a legislatively approved map,'' he said. "Having been invited to participate, they have not participated. And sure it's gamesmanship. They're not an honest player in this process."
The prospect of the court again choosing the plaintiffs map over the Legislature has increased the pressure on lawmakers to reach an agreement on a Senate map.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, summed up the uncertainty as the House adjourned.
"I don't know if we are standing here at the end today or if we are simply in the middle,'' he said. "But I am very confident we have passed a constitutionally compliant map."