August 17, 2015

Florida House rejects changes to congressional map, prepares for final vote


The Florida House on Monday rejected amendments to proposed congressional district maps, all but guaranteeing it will pass the “base map” the chamber started considering last week.

The likely new configuration of the state’s 27 congressional districts was made in response to the state Supreme Court invalidating  the current map, saying it was drawn with partisan intent. But while the Senate has spent time considering changes, the House is now poised for a Tuesday floor vote on the map drawn by House and Senate staff.

Only one of the amendments shot down Tuesday was actually voted on by the full House, failing, on a voice vote. It would have redrawn U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s district to include all of Sarasota County and the eastern part of Manatee County. The base map splits Sarasota County in the middle along an east-west line.

The proposed change is identical to one by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, which is being considered in the Senate on Monday as well.

“There’s a great concern of a disparate treatment in legislation, in budgeting and in representation between south Sarasota County and north Sarasota County,” said state Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, who introduced the amendment. “It is not a partisan concern. It is simply a concern about fair and adequate representation.”

The other amendment, by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, would have reverted to an older congressional map already invalidated by the Supreme Court in 2012. Hill withdrew the amendment before a vote. It was ruled outside the parameters of the special session, and did not receive a floor vote, an echo its downfall in the House Select Committee on Redistricting last week.

Three takeaways from Florida's special session

It's Day 8 of the Florida Legislature's 12-day special session on congressional redistricting. Here are three takeaways at the start of the session's second week:

A full House: The 120-member House meets at noon Monday to debate the base map of Florida's 27 districts and consider amendments. But based on a House committee vote last week and statements by House leaders, it appears unlikely the House will alter the map crafted by House and Senate staff members.

Off the reservation: It will be interesting to see how many members of the House Republican majority publicly oppose the base map in preparation for voting against it. A bipartisan coalition of business and political leaders from Palm Beach and Broward counties has barnstormed lawmakers with the message to leave those counties' districts alone in their current vertical configuration rather than changing to a "stacked" horizontal shape in the base map that would split coastal areas. House Republicans who represent those coastal areas include Reps. George Moraitis of Fort Lauderdale, Bill Hager of Delray Beach, MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta and Patrick Rooney of Palm Beach Gardens.

Senate 'composite':  The Senate Reapportionment Committee also meets at noon to consider a series of amendments proposed by various senators to the base map. The changes would, for example, put most of Tallahassee's Leon County in one district; restore Sarasota County to a single district; and increase the African-American voting population in the Tampa district of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. The tricky part will be to blend all of these proposals into a single revised map that is capable of getting at least 21 votes in the 40-member Senate.

August 15, 2015

Can Florida draw an unbiased political map? Contrast and compare

Congressional districtsAs Florida legislators struggled last week to draw a congressional district map that meets a court mandate, it became clear that what they would end up with would be far from perfect.

“Bring me a redistricting commission or something, for goodness sakes,” exclaimed Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, as lawmakers convened for the second special session to revise a congressional redistricting plan that had been rejected by the court. “Bring me something that works!”

Redistricting reformers thought they had found a better way when they persuaded 63 percent of Florida’s voters in 2010 to approve the “Fair District” amendments to the Florida Constitution that outlawed gerrymandering and banned lawmakers from intentionally drawing districts that favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties.

But taking politics out of the most political of acts turned out not to be so easy.

Now, lawmakers are in the midst of a second special session to redraw the congressional map for the third time.

So, up against this political angst, what does it take to create a politically unbiased map?

More here.

August 14, 2015

2 Florida House members file amendments to congressional map


The Florida House on Monday will consider two proposed changes to the congressional district map, one of which has already been thrown out under legislative rules.

Just Reps. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, and Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, had filed amendments by the noon Friday deadline to be considered by the full House.

Gonzalez's amendment follows the lead of Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who proposed changes to keep Sarasota County and the eastern part of Manatee County represented by one member of Congress, currently U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican.

The original "base map" drawn by House and Senate staff split Sarasota County into two seats, which upset many locals.

Hill's proposed change would revert to an older congressional map already ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. But the House Select Committee on Redistricting disposed of the amendment before voting on it in their hearing Thursday because it technically falls outside the proclamation for a special session.

The Senate Reapportionment Committee, meanwhile, is expected to consider more amendments Monday, including four already filed and one "composite" that would take into account all of the amendments offered by Sens. Detert, Tom Lee, R-Brandon; David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs; and Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

That map still hasn't been filed with the Senate, but senators have until 8 a.m. Monday to make requests to the committee for changes.

Lawsuit plaintiffs send letter with possible legal argument against new congressional map


The League of Women Voters and Common Cause on Friday sent a letter to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner outlining what could make up the core of a legal argument against new congressional district maps being drawn this week and next in Tallahassee.

"We write to call your attention to the fact that we have questions about some choices made with regard to the proposed configuration of Congressional District ("CD") 26 and CD 27,” they wrote. “We ask you to examine those districts closely as they appear to have been drawn with partisan intent.”

Districts 26 and 27 are South Florida seats that currently split the city of Homestead in Miami-Dade. In its ruling overturning the congressional districts, the state Supreme Court instructed the Legislature to keep Homestead in one district, saying that the lines appeared to be drawn to ensure the 26th continued to be held by a Republican.

While a newly proposed map by the Republican-controlled House and Senate would put all of Homestead in District 26, it would add Democrat voters to the already very-blue District 27. This, argue League of Women Voters and Common Cause, would have the effect of giving the the GOP even more protection in District 26, currently represented by freshman U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican.

Continue reading "Lawsuit plaintiffs send letter with possible legal argument against new congressional map" »

Broward's battle cry: Keep it vertical in redistricting

Broward County Mayor Tim Ryan had a simple message for legislators redrawing the map of Florida congressional districts: Keep it vertical. "It's definitely more favorable to be in a vertical position than a horizontal position," Ryan said with a twinkle in his eye Thursday -- and he wasn't joking.

Broward Democrats are livid with the Legislature's base map. They claim that the common interests of coastal cities will be ruined if lawmakers stay on their present course. Political and business leaders are pounding home that message in emails, op-eds and letters to legislative leaders as they try to protect the current district of West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, in an op-ed written for the Sun-Sentinel, blasted the Legislature for not holding more public hearings and said the base map before lawmakers will "obliterate the notion of common cummunity interests." Seiler, a former Democratic House member, emphasized that Broward's western suburbs "have little in common with their coastal counterparts ... The need to address issues like beach renourishment, sustainability, resiliency, flooding and salt-water intrusion are common in all of South Florida's coastal communities." He also said it makes logical sense for the same member of Congress to represent the seaports and airports in Broward and Palm Beach counties, which are near the coast.

Continue reading "Broward's battle cry: Keep it vertical in redistricting " »

Three takeways from Florida special session


No meetings are scheduled today, which is day five of the special session on redistricting. Instead, state senators are reviewing a series of amendments made Thursday to a base map that are scheduled to be voted on Monday.

First Vote: The first votes of the special session came from the Florida House redistricting committee. By a 9-4 votes, House members voted to send a base map drawn by legislative staff to the full House for a vote next week.

Brown’s big stand: U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, made an impassioned plea to the Legislature to reject the Florida Supreme Court’s directive to change her 5th Congressional District. Brown said by drawing her district as the Florida Supreme Court has directed, African-American communities will have their voting power diminished. Sure, the district is oddly shaped, but Brown said it strings together black voters from Jacksonville to Orlando to assure they can elect who they want to represent them in Congress. “We have these areas in Florida that have not been taken care of,” Brown told senators. “That’s what the 1965 Voting Rights Act is all about -- putting these communities together so they would have a voice.” The Legislature is considering a base map that would turn Brown’s district into an east-west configuration, running from downtown Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

No more Swiss cheese: Hillsborough County would be able to elect two members from the county to Congress under a major reconfiguration of the state’s Congressional districts proposed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. He said there are enough people in eastern Hillsborough County that have like interests and they deserve to be in the same Congressional district represented by someone from the county. As it is now, Hillsborough County is split into four congressional districts, yet only one member is from Hillsborough: Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. Other parts of Hillsborough have congressmen living in Polk County, Pinellas and even Okeechobee. Lee said the county has historically been carved up like “Swiss cheese” to help balance out populations in Congressional districts in other parts of the state. “I just feel like it’s somebody else’s turn,” Lee said. His plan would put all of eastern Hillsborough County into the 15th Congressional District, now represented by Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. His amendment was discussed during a committee hearing on Thursday, but won’t be voted on until Monday at the earliest.

August 13, 2015

Oliva: Court has overstepped its boundaries but 'they get the final word on it'

Jose OlivaWhile legislators may not like the map their staff has drafted, they're likely to be stuck with it because the Florida Supreme Court gets "the final word." 

That was the conclusion of House Reapportionment Committee Chairman Jose Oliva Thursday after the House passed its base map with no changes on a 9-4 vote.

Oliva repeated complaints held by many legislators that the Florida Supreme Court "overreached," when it imposed guidelines on how lawmakers should reconfigure eight of the 27 congressional districts it determined were flawed.

The court concluded that the Legislature's entire map was "tainted" by improper partisan political intent when House and Senate leaders allowed political operatives to draw maps and pieces of them were adopted by lawmakers in draft and final maps. 

Because that violated the ban on protecting incumbents and political parties, the court ruled that the burden of justifying the intent of the map had now shifted from the plaintiffs -- the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals -- to the defendants -- the Legislature. 

Oliva said that shifting that burden had gone too far, and violated the separation of powers doctrine, since many legislators in office today were not in office when the maps were passed. 

"To have ruled the maps unconstitutional as a result of that taint that you speak of would have been reasonable,'' he said. "The concern is as to how far they went and how that imposes itself on future legislatures...I guess the question is, does the punishment match the crime?

Oliva acknowledged that while lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are unhappy with the court's ruling, they cannot defy it. He ruled a proposal by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, out of order. Hill proposed rejecting the court ruling and adopting the current map that was ruled unconstitutional by the court. 

"The passion is fervent but it has to be well advised,'' Oliva said, in light of the court ruling. "...Being the highest court in the land they get the final word on it."

The map the House is likely to pass, drawn by three staffers in isolation with little input from legislators or the public, is the best solution, he said.

"Given the current structures that we have, and the time constraints, I believe we are working in the best interests of all parties,'' he said. 

What could happen if House and Senate leaders can't agree on congressional maps


Could the special session on redistricting end in a House-Senate blowup like the regular session in April?

Senate Democrats have raised the possibility that House leadership will pass the base congressional map drawn by legislative staff and then end the session three days early in an homage to their unanticipated early adjournment that ended the regular session.

But House leaders say don't hold your breath.

“I don’t think that would happen but that is a question of the presiding officers," said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, chairman of the House Committee on Redistricting. "As we saw in this last session, it’s always option.”

House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa was even clearer in saying an early end to session isn't in the cards.

“I don’t think there’s any concern about that happening," she said. "The plan that we have with the Senate was that the House would meet Monday-Tuesday, would pass whatever it is that we pass and then we would send it to the Senate for them to consider on Wednesday-Thursday, knowing that we may need to come back Friday."

Still, even without an early end to session, it's looking increasingly likely that disagreement between the House and Senate could flare over congressional maps, as they have off and on during health care funding and budget debates since the spring.

A House panel okayed the staff-drawn base map Thursday, setting it up for passage by the whole chamber early next week. But senators have slowed down the process, leaving enough time to consider alternative district configurations.

If the two chambers, both led by Republican majorities, pass different maps, they'll have limited time to come to a compromise. The proclamation for the special session gives lawmakers until noon next Friday, Aug. 21, to agree to new district maps for Florida's 27 congresional seats.

“My understanding is that the presiding officers are talking to try and figure out how they want to proceed,” Young said.

Herald/Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this post.

Senator proposes big changes to Tampa Bay area congressional districts


Hillsborough County would be able to elect two members from the county to Congress under a major reconfiguration of the state’s Congressional districts proposed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

Lee said the county has been well represented over the years, but said there are enough people in eastern Hillsborough County that have like interests that they deserve to be in the same Congressional district represented by someone from the county. As it is now, Hillsborough County is split into four congressional districts, yet only one member is from Hillsborough: Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. Other parts of Hillsborough have congressmen living in Polk County, Pinellas and even Okeechobee.

Lee said he’s done with parts of Hillsborough being sliced and diced to help balance out populations in Congressional districts in other parts of the state.

“I just feel like it’s somebody else’s turn,” Lee said.

Under the plan he proposed this morning, the 15th Congressional District, now represented by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, would become an almost completely Hillsborough County district that would cover Plant City, Brandon, Riverview and Sun City Center. It would also include a portion of Polk County.

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