Florida Senate rejects House redisticting plan, raising stalemate fear

John Kennedy | Palm Beach Post | 11/05/2015

The Senate rejected the House’s plan for drawing its district boundaries Wednesday, sending lawmakers back to the bargaining table in hopes of a last-ditch deal on redistricting.

The House map made district changes in Miami-Dade County, condemned by key senators as diluting Hispanic voting strength, and that looms as a flash point between the two sides.

District lines in Central and Northeast Florida also drew criticism in the Senate, where vote-counting is complicated by a leadership fight between Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district currently includes part of Palm Beach County, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

But only the Miami-Dade County districts were discussed when Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and his House counterpart, Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, huddled briefly Wednesday night to work on a compromise plan.

“The concerns that I’ve raised at this point are in regards to South Florida,” Galvano said, adding that disputes over other regions are not part of the Legislature’s end-game.

The House’s map had ignored changes tucked into the Senate plan 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 initially combined in the same district, sparking questions about whether it was a politically driven violation of the Florida Constitution.

With the three-week special session set to conclude at 3 p.m. Friday, prospects of another deadlock lingers between the two sides.

An August special session to draw congressional boundaries ended in a standoff. The Florida Supreme Court is now in charge of finalizing those district lines for next year’s elections.

A similar fate could await Senate boundaries. The Senate map limped out of the chamber on a 22-18 vote last week before the House plan became dead on arrival.

Now the focus is on whether a compromise map can get enough votes to clear the Senate, where emotions and political concerns are running hot.

“This is not a fuzzy policy bill where you’re going to get 40 votes,” Galvano said of the 40-member Senate. “Lines move. Things move. … This is never going to be a large margin type of vote.”

It looks likely that Palm Beach County’s Senate boundaries will remain as they were crafted in the House map, with the county’s senators reduced from four to three.

Negron’s district is moved out of north county and confined to Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee. Democratic Sens. Joe Abruzzo of Wellington, Maria Sachs of Delray Beach and Jeff Clemens would have their residences all in the same central county district, which is similar to the one currently held by Clemens.

Abruzzo’s western Palm Beach County district would gain a portion of south county and dip into Broward, picking up communities currently held by Sachs. The Delray Beach senator would likely have to shift to a district in the West Palm Beach area, stretching to the Martin County line.

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