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House committees: Not ready to tackle heavy lifting on redistricting - yet

In the next two weeks, the staff of the House's congressional redistricting subcommittee will work on "mock ups" of proposed maps. Another subcommittee, which handles the House's Senate redistricting, will propose ideas for mapping the state by region. And the subcommittee on House districts will continue to review proposals sent in from the public.

Those are the assignments for the House's three redistricting committees from the chairmen of the committees which met briefly on Monday. The groups will reconvene again in two weeks but still undecided is the how legislators will answer the tough questions as they prepare their maps. Each of these questions are going to eventually be answered if lawmakers are going to defend their maps in court when they face judicial review and expected legal challenges. Among the unknowns:

* How will you determine what is considered a minority access seat -- which must be protected under the federal Voting Rights Act and not diluted under the newly-adopted Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution.

Rep. John Legg, chairman of the House congressional redistricting committee, said Monday he is not sure how many districts that will involve. “I can’t answer that question on what that magic number is,'' he told reporters after the committee meeting on Monday  "What is retrogression – that’s going to be a paradigm issue we have to look at.''

* Lawyers have advised lawmakers that the new constitutional guidelines require them to protect the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice. Does that mean that legislators will draw minority districts first and then worry about creating compact districts second?

"The minority access issue is an issue that has to be front and center,'' Legg said, but so does the federal requirement of one-person, one-vote and the need to keep communities together, he said.

* When will legislators decide how to define minority districts? Does it mean that the state continues to offer minority voters access to three districts in which a majority of voters are minorities? Can those voterse be anywhere in teh state or do they have to continue to have the same access they have today and voters who don't live in those districts are out of luck?

“Those are the questions the committee has to look at,’’ Legg said, but he was not prepared to answer whether those question will be answered before his committee votes on a map or after.

I* When will you have answers? "Before the end of session,'' Legg said. “We are looking at all these questions right now. Those are some of the decision points we’re looking at right now.”

Meanwhile, Legg said that the decision by House Speaker Dean Cannon to continue to spend taxpayer dollars pursuing an appeal to Amendment 6 in federal court, (the Fair Districts amendment that applies to congressional districts,) the committee will continue to draw a map following the Fair Districts guidelines.

"The voters have defined the law and it’s up to us to wrestle with it,'' he said. The lawsuits "really have no effect on what this committee does...Some of the language is ambiguous and we have to look at how we address this."