August 20, 2015

House passes changes to congressional map

The Florida House approved Thursday afternoon a congressional map put forward by Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah.

This map of districts strikes alterations made in the Senate to district lines in Hillsborough and Sarasota counties, and substitutes changes in Central and South Florida to keep some cities, including Sunrise, wholely within one district.

The new map passed by a 60-38 vote.

Now, the map will go back to the Senate, which is not expected to meet again until Friday morning. Oliva, who chairs the House Select Committee on Redistricting, will meet later this afternoon with Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, in an open meeting to discuss these changes.

Lawmakers are up against a self-imposed deadline of noon tomorrow. But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli's office has said it hasn't made any moves toward extending the special session in Tallahassee.

New documents reveal shadow Florida Senate process to draw map

The shadow redistricting process that brought down the congressional map was also in full swing in the Senate, depositions and email documents submitted as part of pending litigation now reveal.

The documents, filed Wednesday in Leon County Circuit Court as part of a pending lawsuit over the Senate map, show that Republican operatives faked “public” submissions, forwarded maps to Senate staff, and created Republican-leaning pieces that became the foundation of the adopted Senate redistricting plan.

The same tactics emerged in the congressional redistricting trial that led to the Florida Supreme Court’s ordering the maps redrawn in a special session that ends this week.

Documents show that the elaborate plan, involving staffing up public hearings with fake testimony and building maps in the shadows, involved many of the same Republicans advisors who influenced the congressional plan — long-time political consultant Rich Heffley, Gainesville-based operative Pat Bainter and Republican Party of Florida advisor Frank Terraferma.

But testimony also shows the degree to which former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, was aware of the process.

More here.

House prepares to reject Senate congressional district changes


The Florida House is preparing to reject the Florida Senate’s plan to create an East Hillsborough County-based Congressional district championed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. Instead the House is pushing a new plan that makes changes to South Florida, particularly in and around Sunrise.

House redistricting leader Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, submitted a new amendment to a base plan the two chambers are working on that strips Lee’s proposal to most of eastern and southern Hillsborough into the 15th Congressional district, now represented by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland.

Instead Oliva’s plan returns the map to the original plan, which would shift 150,000 southern Hillsborough residents into the 17th District, represented now by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. That in turn would force Sarasota County to be split into two Congressional districts for the first time in decades. The southern half of Sarasota County would be represented by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican who lives in Okeechobee County.

But Oliva's plan has additional changes, particularly for South Florida.

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Day 11: Three takeaways from Florida's special session

It's Day 11 of Florida's special session on congressional redistricting. Two days to go and still no deal on a new map. Here are three takeaways:

Eyes on the House: What will the House do? House redistricting chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, praised several components of the Senate's revised map, and the House delayed the start of its Thursday floor session until at least 3 p.m., a sign that it was taking the Senate map seriously.

Senate on hold: The Senate calendar listed a floor session for 10 a.m. Thursday, but Senate leaders told members to stand by and be ready to convene at any time.

Extension watch: The session is scheduled to end at noon Friday and legislative leaders said they had no plans to extend the session until next week. But in this state capital, this year, anything's possible.

August 19, 2015

Senate passes congressional redistrict plan


The Florida Senate overwhelmingly passed a Congressional Redistricting plan on Wednesday, but the 12-day special session is far from over.

That’s because the plan adopted 28-8 is vastly different than a rival redistricting plan the Florida House passed out on Tuesday.

That leaves the House and the Senate with the task of working out a compromise before the close of the special session on Friday. State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he’d reach out to Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, later today to start working on a plan that can pass both chambers. Galvano is the chairman of the Senate’s redistricting committee and Oliva is the chairman for the House’s.

The biggest differences between the maps center in the Tampa Bay region, with portions of eastern Hillsborough and Sarasota handled vastly differently. In the Senate plan all of Hillsborough County south of the Alafia River would be in the 15th Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. But the House version has that entire region – about 150,000 people - instead in the 16thCongressional District represented now U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. Currently that area is split between U.S. Reps Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, and Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

The House map also would split Sarasota County in half, with the northern portion remaining in Buchanan’s district, but the southern portion put into Rooney’s district.

The Legislature is in the 10th day of the special session aimed at redrawing the state’s 27 Congressional Districts. Earlier this summer, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 8 of the state’s congressional districts violated the state constitution prohibiting districts from being drawn to benefit incumbents or political parties.

Before the Senate passed its plan, they rejected three other proposed changes, including one that would have shifted 35,000 voters in Miami-Dade into the 26th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. But both the House and Senate plans have those areas moving into the 27th Congressional District, which is represented by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.

What the prison population has to do with Florida's redistricting fight

via @JeremySWallace

Florida’s prison population is fast becoming a point of contention in the Legislature’s attempt to redraw the state’s congressional districts.

The last Census counted more than 160,000 people in Florida correctional facilities, and they cannot vote. But they can skew how districts are drawn, and ultimately who represents the state in the U.S. House of Representatives. That is exactly what U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, is convinced is happening in North Florida.

Brown said the proposed new Congressional District 5 stretching from Jacksonville to Tallahassee will see a reduction in the percentage of black residents who are of voting age — a key measure used to ensure black voters can elect who they want to represent them in Congress — from 50 percent to 45 percent under the map that passed the House on Tuesday and is expected to be before the Senate on Wednesday.

But Brown, who is suing the Legislature to block the redrawing of her district, said the reduction of the black voting age population in her district could be even greater because her new district would have 17,000 prisoners in it — giving it one of the highest prison populations in the state. Her current district has just 10,000.

“You know that this is a non-performing area because you have 18 prisons,” Brown told the Senate last week, contending her district will be harder for black candidates to win if redrawn as planned.

More here.

Democrats in the Florida House ask to take redistricting out of Legislature entirely


The day after House members from both parties expressed disdain over redistricting before passing new congressional maps, Democrats redoubled their call to take the process out of the Legislature’s hands entirely.

Speaking Wednesday morning, leaders in the minority party said the current system used to divvy up population among congressional and state legislative representatives is “rotten to the core” and “needs to be blown up.”

“Today, it’s crooked as a bucket of snakes,” Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, said. “There are way too many blind spots in the process.”

The solution? Democrats say it’s an independent redistricting commission. Experts say these have worked well in other states, as the Herald/Times has previously reported.

Democrats anticipate two bills in the upcoming legislative session to create an independent commission. One, by Dania Beach Rep. Evan Jenne, hasn't been heard in the special redistricting session that ends this Friday in Tallahassee.

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Day 10: Three takeaways from the special session

Wednesday is Day 10 of the Florida Legislature's 12-day special legislative session on redrawing the map of congressional districts. Uncertainty reigns. By all accounts, the Senate and House aren't talking to each other. Here are three takeaways:

1, 2, 3, Look at Mr. Lee: The full Senate discusses its revised map crafted by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, that would reshape how Hillsborough County would be represented in Washington. Lee's lines also keep all of Sarasota County in one district and draw U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland one street out of his own district. The House voted out a staff-drawn "base map" Tuesday with none of those elements and no plans have been announced for House and Senate redistricting chairmen to meet in public to resolve their differences. The session is scheduled to end Friday.

Short-handed Democrats: The Senate floor session will find the 14-member Senate Democratic Caucus short two members from South Florida. Sens. Gwen Margolis and Chris Smith are on the mend from recent surgeries. UPDATE: Sen. Dwight Bullard, listed as excused by the Senate president's office, was present.

A better way?: Republicans and Democrats don't agree on much, but they are in sync that the ongoing redistricting fiasco in Tallahassee should never happen again. Some Republicans -- not all -- want to rein in the power of the court to dictate changes to districts, and Democrats want to take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature and give it to an independent commission. House Democrats, led by Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, will argue their case at a Wednesday news conference at the Capitol.

August 18, 2015

Florida House OKs congressional maps, sends to Senate



The Florida House on Tuesday approved new, Supreme Court-mandated maps of the state’s 27 congressional districts, solidifying a rift with the Senate.

The map adopts district lines drawn by House and Senate staff based on the court’s instructions to correct what it called unconstitutional partisan intent that would help Republicans gain control of more seats in Congress.

Redrawn maps passed the chamber 76-35, with most House Democrats and a few Republicans voting against it.

Consistently, House leaders have said they don’t want to change the maps but feel the Supreme Court has tied their hands. Many Republicans who spoke up during debate said they don’t support the map but feel they must address the court’s constitutionality concerns.

“There is a map, which I believe gives us the best chance to pass constitutional muster and at least for us to do our job and our duty,” said Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, “regardless of whether we feel the Supreme Court did theirs.”

In the last two weeks, House members have rejected proposals to change the map, which would have put all of Sarasota County in one congressional district, rather than splitting it in the middle, and aligned districts in Palm Beach and Broward counties to run from north to south along the coast.

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New Senate redistricting plan draws congressman out of district

With one line on a map, state Sen. Tom Lee threw the political futures of two members of Congress into uncertainty.

Though Lee insists his move was done without political intention, Lee passed an amendment to the senate’s congressional redistricting plan that would put one boundary of US Rep. Dennis Ross’s 15th Congressional district on the north side of Lake Mariam Drive in Lakeland.

The problem?

Ross, a Republican, lives on the south side of the very street that Lee chose as the boundary of the district. From just over the white brick fence in Ross’s front yard, he would be able to see his Congressional district, but he wouldn’t be living in it. Instead, Ross, first elected in 2010 would technically be living in U.S. Rep.Tom Rooney’s 17th Congressional District, which stretches through rural central Florida to include areas around Lake Okeechobee. If Ross wanted to vote for himself in 2016 and not face Rooney in a primary, he’d either have to move across the street or hope that Rooney, first elected in 2008, would not seek re-election or he would move to a new district again, like he did in 2012 to comply with the original redistricting maps.

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