September 04, 2015

Court allows for another redistricting session but orders trial court to take charge

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday ordered the trial court to return to the redistricting drawing board, allowing it to review the rival maps submitted by the House and Senate and choose between them. 

The court rejected a request by the plaintiffs to take over the drawing of the congressional map after a two-week special session of the Legislature in August ended in stalemate without an enacted map.

But the high court also opened the door to the state Senate's request to conduct another special session on redistricting, as long as the work is completed by the deadline it set in July -- Oct. 17.

The ruling orders Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to hold a hearing on the "proposed remedial plans" from both the House, the Senate, as well as any amendments offered to them.

"However, the Legislature is not precluded from enacting a remedial plan prior to the time the trial court sets for the hearing,'' the court added.

The ruling was signed by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and J.C. Perry. Justice Charles Canady, the most outspoken critic of the court's previous redistricting rulings, concurred in most of the decision but dissent in the part which said the trial court may not accept new evidence. Justice Ricky Polston concurred.

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August 31, 2015

Senator Nelson calls for independent redistricting commission

@JeremySWallace

The repeated failures of the Florida Legislature to redraw the state’s congressional districts is a sure sign that Florida needs to create an independent commission to do the work, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said during a stop in Tallahassee on Monday.

“Seems to me we need an independent commission for future reapportionment so that you stop this self-serving process of drawing districts for your own self interest,” said Nelson, a Democrat.

Nelson’s comments come 10 days after the Florida Legislature ended its 12-day special session without producing a redistricting map that both the House and Senate could agree to for the state’s 27 congressional districts.

Nelson said other states – like Arizona and California - have created commissions to draw congressional districts and Florida needs to explore the same idea to keep the map drawing out of the hands of the self-interested.

“Seems to me that common sense says put it in the hands of as independent of a commission as you can make it,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the Legislature’s failures have created chaos and an uncertainty where people interested in running for office cannot file because they don’t know what district they are in.

When Florida voters overwhelmingly passed the fair districts redistricting reforms there was hope that that would be enough. But he said court documents reported on recently by the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau shows the Legislature has been engaged in a “political partisan exercise.”  He said the choice Florida faces is whether it will follow “partisan political hacks” or the rule of law.

Nelson also used his time in Tallahassee to accuse the Florida Legislature of having “thwarted the rule of law” over how it responded to the more recent Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment passed in 2014 calling for dedicating $700 million for environmental land conservation and preservation. The Legislature dedicated just a fraction for that cause.

August 28, 2015

Galvano redistricting prediction: The court is going to give us some time

Bill GalvanoAs the afternoon fades on this Friday in August, the Florida Supreme Court has not yet issued a ruling as to how it wants to proceed in the redistricting impasse over the congressional maps.

Senate Redistricting chief Bill Galvano told the Herald/Times he believes the court is prepared to give the Legislature more time to work out differences between the House and Senate, if they can soon agree to reconvene in special session. 

"The door is still open to talk and reconvene, although that hasn’t been agreed to,'' said Galvano, R-Bradenton, in an interview. "There was a misunderstanding that the court was going to order or issue a statement today. The Supreme Court operates on its own time schedule. We still have until Oct. 17."

Meanwhile, Senate President Andy Gardiner on Friday formally requested a meeting with House Speaker Steve Crisafulli to discuss convening another special session to discuss the alternate map offered by Galvano.  Download 8 27 15 Speaker Crisafulli

Nearly a week after the last legislative session ended in stalemate, Galvano offered up a "compromise" map on Thursday that attempts to appease many of the concerns the House had with the final Senate map. On Friday, House Redistricting chairman Jose Oliva responded in a letter to House members that the Senate map had promise -- but also warned that it may be too late.

"If the Senate had offered an amendment like the map filed by Chairman Galvano yesterday afternoon, that map would have been given serious consideration,'' Oliva wrote.

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Jose Oliva: New Senate congressional map proposal is too late

@MichaelAuslen

At this time last Friday, House and Senate negotiations over new congressional district maps were falling apart, as the chambers approached a noon deadline without a compromise.

Now, House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah, says he likes the latest map proposed by Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Thursday.

But it's too late.

"If the Senate had offered an amendment like the map filed by Chairman Galvano yesterday afternoon," Oliva wrote in a memo to House members, "that map would have been given serious consideration."

At issue has been the configuration of a district in southern and eastern Hillsborough County, which the Senate pushed for but House members wouldn't agree to, saying it didn't use "consistent" methodology to draw boundaries and could be thrown out by the Supreme Court.

Galvano's latest map addresses other concerns of the Senate (including putting all of Sarasota County within one district) but doesn't create a southern Hillsborough seat.

Still, Oliva says the best path forward is to continue supporting a map that passed the House. That map made minor tweaks to a "base map" drawn by House and Senate staff before the redistricting special session began.

Operatives engaged in 'shadow redistricting' sue to invalidate Fair Districts

A group of Alachua-based Republicans calling themselves the "Conservative Coalition for Free Speech and Association" filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday challenging the Fair Districts amendments of the Florida Constitution as unconstitutional.

The group is suing Secretary of State Ken Detzner in an attempt to invalidate the anti-gerrymandering amendments approved by voters in 2010. Several members of the group have fought the release of their private emails in pending redistricting lawsuits, claiming it violates their First Amendment right to free speech and association.

Meanwhile, the release of a limited number of those documents showed that many of these individuals were engaged in what the court called a "shadow redistricting" process that aimed to influence the Legislature's drawing of its maps in a way that favored Republicans. 

Led by Stafford Jones, head the Alachua Republican Executive Committee, the group echoed many of the complaints of Florida legislators in its lawsuit, and blasted the Florida Supreme Court for violating their First Amendment rights. 

The court's 5-2 ruling invalidating the congressional map because it showed improper partisan intent was "overreaching,'' said Jones in a statement. The court "quite cynically, if not dangerously, redefined protected political free speech and the anonymous petitioning of government as a 'conspiracy'; a conspiracy to commit Democracy?"

According to documents filed in the current redistricting lawsuits challenging the congressional and state Senate maps, Jones and other members of the group involved in the lawsuit were instrumental in recruiting Republicans with scripted talking points to appear at the Legislature's public hearings across the state.

They also actively worked on and submitted Republican-leaning maps as part of the public submission process, pieces of which were included in the final versions of the maps adopted by lawmakers, court documents show.

This is the second lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Florida that attempts to invalidate the state Supreme Court's ruling. The district is believed to be most favorable to conservatives. 

Documents obtained by the Herald/Times show that taxpayers have already spent $11 million in legal fees for the legislature's defense of its redistricting maps. The Democratic Party has used that to launch a campaign and distribute mailers targeting individual lawmakers for wasting taxpayer money. 

Here's the press release and lawsuit:  Download Federal_Complaint

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August 27, 2015

Plaintiffs: Time for Supreme Court to draw redistricting after legislative failure

Equating the Legislature's redistricting failure to a strike out, the challengers to the state's congressional redistricting efforts on Thursday called on the Florida Supreme Court to redraw the map it invalidated and reject the Legislature's call for more time. 

"Faced with the Legislature’s disregard of its mandate, this Court should promptly adopt a remedial plan,'' wrote the lawyers for the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters in a motion filed Thursday.  Download Filed_08-27-2015_Coalition_Response

"...the unique circumstances of the crisis created by the Legislature—hitting foul balls in its first two attempts and now striking out without a swing when given a third opportunity to draw constitutional districts—warrants the remedy requested."

The motion comes a day after Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis asked the court for guidance after the Legislature ended its special redistricting session without an enacted congressional map -- the third attempt in three years. 

The House and Senate have asked the Supreme Court to allow Lewis to conduct a trial and decide whether the maps proposed by the House or the Senate map best.

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Determined to keep pushing, Galvano proposes yet another congressional map

Galvano planBy Mary Ellen Klas and Jeremy Wallace

No doesn't mean no when the stakes remain high, so Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, on Thursday released yet another proposed congressional redistricting map in an effort to get the House to agree to a deal before the court draws its own plan. 

The latest plan leaves U.S. Rep. Dan Webster's district in Orange County, as sought by the House. But it wrecks havoc for other incumbents  by doing a major rewrite of districts in Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties, and could end the congressional career of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee.

All of Hillsborough south of Brandon would be combined in a new congressional district with all of Manatee County - now covered by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. Under Galvano's plan, that district has no current incumbent living in it.

All of Sarasota County, represented now by Buchanan, would be pushed into a new 17th Congressional district that would include four other counties – Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee and part of Polk - currently represented by Rooney. He would either have to move further west to challenge Buchanan, or remain in a new 9th Congressional District that would stretch up into Orlando, a heavily Democratic district represented now by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando.

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August 25, 2015

House clarifies: another congressional redistricting session is not happening

Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, held a ray of hope that the comments of House attorney George Meros in court today were a signal that the House was prepared to return in special session to resolve the redistricting impasse.

After the hearing, House deputy chief of staff Ryan Smith clarified: no go.

"The House and Senate held a two week special session, but unfortunately arrived at an impasse,'' Smith said in a statement.

"Because the Court established a very tight timeframe, and given the small difference between the two maps is because of a differing legal opinion, we think presenting the House map to the Court is the best way to proceed. We would prefer to pass a map with the Florida Senate, but they have been unyielding on their position."

Lewis asks Supreme Court for redistricting direction; Galvano sees hope for new session

The Florida Supreme Court will now decide the best way to resolve the impasse over Florida's redistricting maps, after a trial judge said Tuesday he "has no authority" to resolve the dispute between the House and Senate.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis held a six-minute hearing in his Tallahassee courtroom and told lawyers that the Supreme Court "didn't give me a lot of discretion" when it ordered him to review a map passed by lawmakers in special session.

Lewis said he will report to the high court that lawmakers ended the session in gridlock on Friday and will "ask them what they want me to do."

He will tell the court that, "unfortunately, we're in a process that even though the Senate believes it can get something done, the House says I don’t think we can." 

The Senate filed a motion Monday asking the Florida Supreme Court to relinquish jurisdiction of the case to allow Lewis to conduct a hearing to decide whether the proposed Senate map or the House map was better.

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Is 'precedence' behind the House and Senate redistricting divide?

Maybe it's all about October?

In the ideological divide that has led to stalemate over the congressional redistricting map, Republican leaders in the House have argued that the Senate map lacks "consistency."

The proposed Senate plan no longer divides Hillsborough and Sarasota counties, but it creates a new division by shifting the Orlando-based district, now held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, into Lake County.

Republicans in the Senate have staunchly defended the Senate's position. Even Sen. Bill Galvano, Senate Reapportionment Committee chairman, argues it is the preferred approach, even though his home county remains more whole in the House's map than the Senate's.

The House argues that by failing to apply the same standards across the map, the Senate risks having the court reject its map. The Senate counters that the House's base map, as drawn by staff, fails to include the legislative input essential to the redistricting process. 

Now, both want the court to decide which map is better.

If the Senate wins, the court confirms that notion that a map can reflect the regional input of local legislators inconsistently without violating the redistricting standards as interpreted by the court. That's important as lawmakers prepare to redraw the Senate map in October. (Remember, it was the Senate that admitted to violating the Fair Districts provisions and called for the session to revise the Senate map. The House remained silent.)

If the House wins, the call for consistency will prevail. 

“We are not here to set precedent,'' said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, the House Reapportionment Committee chairman. "After the Senate admitted violating the law, we now are here to comply with the law. So therefore no rational will be acceptable in one part of the map but not in another. It has to be consistently applied." 

The Senate has understandably more at stake than the House during that exercise. Notes Oliva: “I won’t be here five or six years from now. I’m never running for Senate under any circumstances."