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.

Senate, Gardiner respond to shadow redistricting process

In response to a Herald/Times story today detailing a shadow redistricting process used to draw state Senate districts, Senate President Andy Gardiner issued a response Thursday afternoon.

You can read the full story here. To judge for yourself, the full deposition is attached here (vol. 1) and  here (vol. 2).

The Senate entered in to a consent judgement with the Plaintiffs because on July 9, more than three years after they approved the current Senate map, the Florida Supreme Court imposed a new and unprecedented definition of legislative intent.

The Court’s most recent definition of legislative intent was not in place at the time Amendments 5 and 6 were approved for placement on the ballot in 2010 or when President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford developed the process by which the House and Senate would draw new legislative maps in 2012.

I now have the benefit of numerous court rulings and constitutional interpretations, not available to President Gaetz in 2012, which I will consider when outlining a process to draw the new Senate map later this year.

Rather than going back and trying to dissect the 2012 redistricting process based on judicial guidance that didn’t exist until 2015, the Senate is moving forward to develop a new map that fully complies with the Court’s most recent interpretation of the constitution.

The Senate also issued what it calls a "fact check" of the story:

Continue reading "Senate, Gardiner respond to shadow redistricting process" »

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.