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House set to 'rubber stamp' Senate map

The Florida House Redistricting Committee approved the Senate's fix to its rejected redistricting map on a party line vote Monday and sent it to the House floor where nothing is expected to change.

"I think it’s a significant improvement to the map that was passed before and I think it is in compliance,'' said House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford as the committee met to review the Senate map. The Legislature has until Wednesday to come up with a new Senate map after the Florida Supreme Court rejected its first try 5-2 on March 9.

Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, said he will propose an amendment to revise some areas of the map on when the proposal comes to a vote before the full House on Tuesday, but it's not expected to go anywhere.

"No one can deny it's a better map,'' Jenne said Monday. "While it is better, I'm not quite sure it gets us over the hump."

Democratic Majority leader Ron Saunders predicted that absent any changes to the Senate map, it will prompt the party to urge the Florida Supreme Court to reject it when it conducts its second and final review this month. "It's going to be challenged,'' Saunders said. "Districts are more compact than they were before but we don't think it follows the constitution much better."

Saunders said Party Chairman Rod Smith offered a compromise with Senate Redistricting Chairman Don Gaetz to avoid the challenge, but it was rejected.

Jenne's amendment will try to increase the black population of the Jacksonville-based black majority district now held by Sen. Audrey Gibson; shifts the coastal district that divides both Broward and Palm Beach counties, now held by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, to be housed entirely in Palm Beach County and increases the black voting age population of the district now held by Sen. Chris Smith by 2 percent; expands the open Palm Beach minority opportunity district to match Palm Beach school board district lines and the House's proposed map; and increases the African American voting age population in the Hillsoborough-based minority district now held by Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, said he expects the Miami-Dade delegation to warn that the failure of the map to draw a fourth Hispanic majority in Miami-Dade County may violate federal Voting Rights Act protections. But he said the map is likely to get the House’s “rubber stamp.”

“Numbers don’t lie,’’ he said. “With the voting age population of Hispanics in Dade County, you could justify six seats and all we’re asking for are four seats.”

Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Davie, expressed concern, too.

"I have grave concern that the map is nothing more than an incumbent protection plan,'' Kiar said, citing a Herald/Times analysis that showed that the Senate proposal puts only two senators into the same district while the House map approved by the court drew several legislators together. That "shows me that it was clearly drawn to protect incumbents."