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House approves Senate map, sends it to the court

The Florida Legislature ended its two-week extraordinary legislative session on redistricting Tuesday, sending a redrawn map of new Senate districts to the Florida Supreme Court for one last review.

In a clipped, 90-minute session, the House voted 61-47 to approve the Senate-drawn plan — making no changes. It’s now up to the state’s highest court to decide if the upper chamber did enough to fix the flaws in the first map that provoked the court’s rebuke.

“I believe this is the right map at the right time.,” said House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected the first Senate map for failing to follow the requirements of the new Fair Districts standards. The new proposal, which appears to create more visually compact districts than the first, also creates one less Republican majority seat than the first plan, giving the GOP a 23-15 advantage, with two swing districts.

Democrats maligned the new map as fraught with many of the previous problems, from protecting incumbents, inexplicably dividing cities and counties, and failing to protect minority voting strength.

“We’ll see you in court,’’ said Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan, in a terse statement.

"This is nothing more than an incumbent protection plan,” said Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Davie, citing a Herald/Times analysis that shows that only two senators — Republican Reps. David Simmons and Andy Gardiner — are drawn into the same districts. Simmons has announced he we will move. "Now we’re back in Tallahassee wasting taxpayer dollars because the people in the Senate didn’t want to get it right the first time," Kiar said.

Unlike the first map, which won unanimous support of the House’s Republican caucus, 11 Republicans -- most of them Hispanic members of Miami Dade’s delegation -- joined with Democrats to oppose the Senate plan. They argued that the growth in the Hispanic population in Miami Dade County justified a fourth Hispanic majority district. But the Senate map created only three protected seats.

“Why aren’t these districts more balanced,’’ asked Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami. “What we have is a preservation of the status quo."

Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, suggested that the Senate should "take a Hippocratic oath" because the map enshrines another 10 years of unequal representation for Miami Dade voters. "This is first do no harm."

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, argued that the Miami delegation in the is not reflective of the population.

"That causes grave concern,’’ he said, suggesting that it not only violates the state constitutional standards but the federal Voting Rights Act.

But Weatherford urged the chamber to approve the Senate map and warned that rejecting it would set “a very dangerous precedent.”

"If this map doesn’t pass what this body is doing is abdicating its role to the Supreme Court,’’ Weatherford said.

The attorney general has 15 days to ask the Florida Supreme Court for a second review of the revised Senate map. The court has 30 days to approve or reject it. If it rejects it, the court will then have 60 days to draw the map themselves.