August 25, 2015

Senate responds to House: we're 'ready willing and able to reconvene' session

The Florida Senate has asked the Florida Supreme Court to deny the House's request to relinquish jurisdiction in order to allow the trial court to mediate their dispute over the congressional map.

In a motion filed Tuesday, the Senate argues that the trial court already has the "authority to modify" the deadlines it originally set and repeated its contention that the Senate "is ready, willing, and able to reconvene in special session to fulfill the Legislature’s obligations to draw new congressional districts."

On Monday, the House asked the court to relinquish jurisdiction of the redistricting case for 60 days and allow Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to conduct hearings and decide whether the House or Senate map is best. 

The Senate added, however, that if the Supreme Court concludes that it is necessary to extend the trial court's jurisdiction, it should limit it to allowing the court to "recommend approval or disapproval of any remedial plan passed by the Legislature.

"The Florida Senate believes that an initial impasse should not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction to review any plan that the Legislature passes at a later date."  Download Senate response

Lewis has scheduled a scheduling hearing on the issue for 3 p.m. today. 

August 24, 2015

Acting alone, House asks Supreme Court to let trial court mediate map dispute

The intra-party feuding that led to a legislative stalemate on congressional redistricting continued Monday as Republican House leaders split from the Senate and asked the Florida Supreme Court to allow a trial court judge to mediate their dispute.

"We are in an unprecedented and unique time, and every action we take is charting new territory,'' acknowledged House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, in a letter to House members after House lawyers filed a motion asking the Florida Supreme Court to relinquish jurisdiction of the redistricting case for 60 days.

The House then asked to court to allow Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to conduct hearings and decide whether the House or Senate map is best.

But Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said in a statement late Monday that the Senate is not prepared to relinquish control to the trial court, which has set a scheduling hearing for Tuesday, and would prefer to come back into special session to find a compromise.

"During tomorrow’s hearing, the Senate attorneys will convey to the court the Senate’s continued willingness to compromise and work with the House to fulfill our responsibility to draw a constitutionally compliant congressional map for Florida,” Gardiner said.

Continue reading "Acting alone, House asks Supreme Court to let trial court mediate map dispute" »

State senators try to salvage Florida's congressional redistricting


The Florida Legislature’s special session on redistricting ended in failure, but that is not stopping a pair of senators from taking one more shot at redrawing the state’s 27 Congressional districts.

Florida Sens Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and Nancy Detert, R-Venice, late Friday filed a new redistricting plan, even though there is no clear mechanism to take up or vote on the plan. The Legislature’s special session ended on Friday when the House and Senate could not agree to a plan to redraw the state’s Congressional districts. But Detert and Bradley are hoping their new offer could serve as a compromise that could win support if the Legislature does end up back in session to deal with the unfinished business.

 “We haven’t given up,” Detert said.

Detert said their plan takes part of the House’s final offer and combines it with her original idea to put all of Sarasota County whole in one congressional district without making any dramatic changes to Hillsborough County as the Senate previously was demanding.

Gone from Detert’s proposal was an idea pushed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, that would have put all of eastern Hillsborough into the 15th Congressional District, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. Lee’s proposal was opposed by the Florida House last week.

Continue reading "State senators try to salvage Florida's congressional redistricting" »

August 23, 2015

Move to let courts redraw districts 'déjà vu all over again'

Crisafulli end of redistrictingAs Florida legislators dissolved their two-week redistricting session Friday without agreement on a congressional map, they acknowledged they were ready to repeat something they had done only once before in state history — turning over the complicated task of drawing maps to the courts.

The year was 1992, when Bill Clinton and Ross Perot dominated national politics, Florida voters imposed term limits on politicians and Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami-Dade County.

Then, as now, one party controlled government. Lawton Chiles was governor and the House and Senate were run by Democrats. And yet then, as now, political dominance was not enough to overcome the pressures of personal ambition and intra-party divides.

The 1992 redistricting session ended in stalemate over a congressional map and legislators turned the job over to a three-judge panel of federal judges. The court’s signature change was the creation of a sprawling, wishbone-shaped minority-majority seat that linked black communities in 14 counties from Jacksonville to Orlando and back through Gainesville.

The argument: the federal Voting Rights Act protections required the state to link minority communities together where possible to create districts where black and Hispanic voters could elect candidates of their choice.

Now that sprawling district is at the heart of the redistricting ruling from the Florida Supreme Court that ordered the Legislature to redraw its congressional map and specifically end the practice of dividing counties through the center of the state in order to create a black-majority district.

This time, judges specifically ordered that the district run east-west along the northern counties of the state and, because the legislature couldn’t get the job done, the task will go to Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis. He has until Oct. 17 to get a plan complete and send it to the Florida Supreme Court for final review. The first hearing will be Tuesday.

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” said Miguel DeGrandy, a Miami attorney and former Republican state representative who successfully aligned with black Democrats in 1992 to challenge the congressional and legislative districts drawn by the Democrat-controlled legislature.

More here.

August 21, 2015

Crisafulli: No malice to Senate but their map is 'flawed'

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli sent the following message to House members, expressing disappointment for the collapse of the session and reinforcing his opposition to the Senate map:


Thank you, once again, for coming to Tallahassee to give your best effort to produce a compliant remedial Congressional map. I am deeply disappointed that we could not reach an agreement with the Florida Senate.

Though we failed to pass a map agreed to by both Chambers, I am confident that the bipartisan map we passed out of the House – a map that was produced with input from both the House and the Senate (HB 1B) - was a map that gave the Legislature the best chance to complete the remedial process successfully.

It is without malice toward the Florida Senate that I say I believe their map was flawed.  As Chair Oliva stated perfectly, the Legislature is not the judge of intent. Unfortunately, when the Legislature uses inconsistent methodology or principles that afford benefits to some regions to the detriment of others, we open ourselves up to the exact type of criticism and adverse decisions that we have received in the past from the Florida Supreme Court.

Plainly stated, the final version of HB 1B that we returned to the Senate was the best map before the Legislature on both Tier 1 and Tier 2 standards. The Senate never questioned the constitutional validity of the House Bill.

This Special Session was not about pushing limits but about how well we could fulfill our duty, and thus preserve the Legislature’s constitutional authority over redistricting. I am extremely proud of the manner by which the House conducted itself during Special Session, and I again wish to commend Chair Oliva for his outstanding service.

Over the next few days, I will be consulting with our House Counsel to determine our best course of action. Your votes in committee and on the House floor will be at the forefront of my mind as I make these decisions.

I apologize for the uncertainty that we are faced with and commit to providing you with more information in a timely manner.

Once again, thank you for working so hard to fulfill your responsibilities. The last chapter has not yet been written. 

After bashing redistricting ruling, Florida Legislature turns to court to referee and decide

After the legislative session collapsed Friday with the House and Senate unable to agree on a way to repair the congressional map the court ruled invalid, leaders of both chambers conceded that court will not only be their referee, it will likely make the decision.

This is the same Legislature whose Republican leaders fundamentally disagree with the court ruling that found they violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution by passing approved a GOP-leaning map in 2012 that was designed to favor incumbents and political parties. They has spent much of the 10-day session blasting the court for "overreaching." 

With less than 30 minutes left in the two-week redistricting session, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, warned legislators that if the Senate rejected the House congressional map, they were, by default, leaving it up to the courts to decide.

The next step, he said, is "the House counsel will have an opportunity to explain why we feel is indeed the best map to put forward. The Senate counsel will have that same opportunity and the courts will have a decision to make of whether or not they want to redraw the map, take the plaintiffs map or take one of the maps produced here in the Florida House or Florida Senate." 

In essence: the House lawyers will make the case for the House map. The Senate lawyers will argue for the Senate map and the plaintiffs -- the League of Women Voters and Common Cause -- can offer up their own map. Or, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis can design a map himself.

Continue reading "After bashing redistricting ruling, Florida Legislature turns to court to referee and decide " »

House digs in heels, refuses to extend session

As Hurricane Danny strengthened to a category 2 storm, the tempest brewing in Tallahassee over redrawing the state's 27 congressional district maps intensified, as well.

The Florida House at 11:10 a.m. Friday dug its heels in, reiterating its push for its own base map and further widening the rift between the House and Senate. They also refused by a 99-3 vote to extend the special session to 6 p.m. Tuesday, which the Senate passed minutes earlier. The session will end at noon Friday.

“I can tell you with all honesty, I did not expect to be standing here today,” said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah, the House redistricting committee chairman.

The move came just hours after senators walked out of a heated meeting with Oliva. Negotiations over congressional district maps have broken down over changes the Senate made that put Sarasota County completely within one district and moved District 15 to include all of eastern and southern Hillsborough County.

“What you saw was a disagreement over what is constitutional,” Oliva said. “But what you also saw near the end of that meeting was the loss of that cordiality which was so important to this process.”

Lawmakers have had since Aug. 10 to agree to new maps. The disagreement and inability to reach a compromise by their self-imposed deadline of noon today has led to consternation among many.

Before convening on the House floor, the Democratic Caucus met, and members were frustrated that the endgame at this point is unclear.

“WTF?” said Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, choosing not to swear but clearly aggravated. "Seriously, I don't see us staying through Tuesday and it having any different outcome than we've seen so far."

Throughout the special session on redistricting, House and Senate leaders have repeatedly said that they did not anticipate disagreement or that the session would not be wrapped up by noon.

But those intentions had been blown away Friday afternoon as House members took the floor of their chamber. Even some Democrats — just months ago allied with the Senate over Medicaid expansion — started criticizing the upper chamber.

Senators storm out of redistricting meeting in protest

Facing a noon deadline to pass a new congressional district map, the Florida Senate refused Friday morning to accept changes offered by the House.

As the impasse deepened, lawmakers discussed the possibility of creating a joint conference committee and extending the two-week special session into a third week next week.

UPDATE: Senators stormed out of a meeting with the House shortly before 10 a.m. after asking that the House agree to set up a conference committee.

Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, defended the Senate's amended map that reshapes Hillsborough County and solidifies Sarasota County into a single congressional district.

"What we think counts," Galvano told senators in a brief floor session. "I think the House is taking a very careful position in order to not be kicked out by the court case," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who offered the amendment to keep Sarasota County whole. "By cutting us (Sarasota County) in half, you could have taken a constitutional district and made it unconstitutional. In the House's carefulness, they could get it kicked out anyway."

"We continue to be in a very inconsistent situation," said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, the House redistricting chairman. The House's position is that the Senate proposal won't pass muster with the Florida Supreme Court.

-- With reporting by Michael Auslen, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Three takeaways from Florida's special session


The Legislature enters the final day of the 12-day special session still without an agreement on a final map. The full Senate meets at 9 a.m. to consider the House’s latest offer.

 No Deal. The Florida House on Thursday flat out rejected the Senate’s plan to put all of eastern Hillsborough County into one Congressional District. The House voted on 60-38 to instead send a revised redistricting map back to the Senate with eastern Hillsborough split between two districts. All of Hillsborough south of the Alafia River would be in U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s district, and most of the rest of eastern Hillsborough east of Interstate 75 would be in U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross’s district.

A Full Sunrise. While the House plan didn’t budge on Hillsborough, House leaders offered up a plan to put all of the city of Sunrise into one Congressional district. Currently the Broward County city is split three ways. But the House plan passed Thursday puts the city of 90,000 people fully into the 20th District, represented by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar.

Showdown at High Noon: The Legislature has a noon deadline to complete their work. The Special Session officially ends at noon, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said he does not anticipate agreeing to extend the session. “I feel we have a deadline that’s in place and we’re working toward that deadline,” he said. But what happens if they get to noon and there is no final map? “I would say we don’t have a map.”

August 20, 2015

Legislature hits impasse over congressional redistricting plans


A divide over how to shape Tampa Bay's congressional districts is creating uncertainty over whether the Legislature will be able to finish its job in a court-ordered special session on time.

While a legislative impasse is hardly new in the recent political dynamics of the House and the Senate, the latest breakdown is complicated by the fact that they are under a Florida Supreme Court order to draw new districts because the last two attempts failed to produce a constitutionally sound map.

What happens if they don't hit their noon Friday deadline to pass identical redistricting maps? Even legislative leaders are uncertain about the next step.

"I don't know the actual legal procedures from that point, but I'm sure I'll be briefed on that at some point knowing that we are where we are today," House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said moments after the House rejected a Senate plan that would have put all of eastern Hillsborough County — about 520,000 people — into one congressional district, instead of being split into three as they are now.

Instead, the House forwarded a new proposal that is nearly identical to the base map both chambers started with two weeks ago, but with a few "nip and tucks," as Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, called them. More specifically, Oliva, who is leading the House redistricting committee, authored the new plan that puts all of Sunrise, a city of about 90,000 people in Broward County, into one congressional district, rather than being split three ways as it is now. Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County also would be kept whole instead of being split in two congressional districts.

But Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the House's objections to keeping eastern Hillsborough together in one county "does not make sense." He said the Senate is trying to minimize how much Hillsborough is cut up, which complies with the Supreme Court's directives.

"I can tell you that the Senate is not prepared to back away from these changes," Galvano told Oliva in a face-to-face meeting after the House rejected the Senate plan.

More here.