October 23, 2015

Senate committee advances redistricting map but doubts remain about whether it will pass

Senate redistrict 1023

A bitterly divided Florida Senate committee gave preliminary approval to a redistricting redo pushed by Republican leaders Friday that would split 13 communities in Miami Dade and Broward counties and force all 40 senate districts onto the ballot next year.

The Senate Reapportionment Committee voted 4-3 along party lines to bring a Republican-leaning map offered by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, to the floor next Tuesday but its prospects for passage remained cloudy.

All three Democrats on the committee said they objected to the Galvano map, and two of the committee’s four Republicans warned that they may not support it next week because they fear it could run afoul of the state Constitution’s anti-gerrymandering provisions.

"It is defiant. It is unnecessary. It is recalcitrant and I hope that our colleagues at the other end of the hall will recognize the fatal flaw that was placed on the record by our lawyers,’’ said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. He said the Senate’s lawyers ordered staff to ignore the allegations in the lawsuit that forced lawmakers into special session to fix the Senate map when they drew the map, a decision that could lead the court to reject the plan and become "another black eye" for legislators.

The meeting came at the end of the first week of the three-week special session called to redraw the Senate map. Lawmakers called the session after reaching a settlement in July with the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning plaintiffs who accused them of violating the Fair Districts amendments to the state Constitution.

The map proposed by Galvano, S9090, keeps four minority-majority districts that favor African Americans and three minority-majority districts that favor Hispanics, all in Miami Dade. Although Miami Dade and Broward have some of the largest populations in the state, the map divides more cities in those counties than anywhere else in the state.

And, like the current map that elected 26 Republicans and 14 Democrats, the majority of the districts in the new map favor Republicans --although the map does create three stronger Democrat-leaning districts.

In the 2012 presidential election, for example, Mitt Romney would have won 23 of the districts and Barack Obama 17, according to an analysis by MCI Maps, a Democratic consulting firm.

The challengers claimed the Senate violated the Fair Districts amendments to the Constitution in 2012 by drawing a map that intentionally avoided pitting incumbents against each other, crossed Tampa Bay to strengthen a Republican district in Pinellas, split the African American community in Daytona Beach to benefit adjoining Republican districts, and unnecessarily packed black Democrats into districts across the state to help reserve safe seats for Republicans.

Lee, and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, complained all week that Senate Republican leaders had not addressed those complaints when drawing the new maps.

“Simply drawing maps in a sterile process and not come out with maps that don’t address the base allegations…to me not only lacks common sense but seems defiant,’’ said Lee, a former Senate president. “It seems unnecessarily dug into this notion that we have some superiority complex.”

Continue reading "Senate committee advances redistricting map but doubts remain about whether it will pass " »

Dan Webster increases heat to keep his seat, files to intervene in court case

Dan WebsterArguing that the "extraordinary" circumstances surrounding the state's congressional redistricting challenge could leave him without a district, U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Orlando, on Friday filed to intervene in the case before the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that violates the constitution.

"The Congressional District of a sitting United States Congressman is being transmuted into a majority minority district in which he stands no chance of re-election, and he has, to date, not been permitted “a seat,'' Webster argues in a motion filed by his attorney Jim WilkesDownload Filed_10-22-2015_Motion_to_Intervene

Webster offers up a new argument: that by significantly revising his district, it violates the provisions of the Fair Districts amendments by "disfavoring" an incumbent. 

Webster tried and failed to make the same argument and intervene in the case before the trial court but Circuit Court Terry Lewis rejected it. His new motion recognizes that allowing someone to intervene in the case at the Supreme Court level is generally not authorized but the circumstances are unique.

He said the court ruled the current district violates the constitution's anti-gerrymandering provisions in its July 9 ruling, but did not offer any directions for how to redraw it. As a result, the newly proposed map "is a radical departure from the history of the district" and it becomes a minority-majority district. 

"The Proposed Remedial Plans are specifically intended to disfavor Congressman Webster as the incumbent in District 10,'' the motion argues.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments on Nov. 10. 

October 21, 2015

Bill Galvano offers a new map and alternative plan for choosing who avoids re-election

Galvano 9084Confusion and controversy continued to swamp the redistricting discussions Wednesday as one Senate Republican leader said he had “lost confidence’’ in the legal team while the redistricting chairman selected a draft map that several lawmakers said could be rejected by the courts as incumbency protection.

"I just don’t find any consistency in this. I think I’ve lost confidence," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, after listening to answers from the Senate's legal team during the second day of hearings on Senate redistricting.

After the six-hour hearing, Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, filed a proposed map, S9084, that will serve as the Senate's starting point on Friday, when the committee attempts to vote out a map. It was similar to S9078, one of six draft maps drawn by House and Senate staff in advance of the redistricting session that began on Monday.

Galvano, who has argued that not all senators will have to run for re-election in 2016 even if their districts are significantly revised by the new map, also offered two options for determining which Senate districts will escape re-election. If approved, at least 14 senators will not run until 2018, even if the new districts have them represent new communities.

He also rejected arguments from Democrats and some Republicans and included in his map a district that links black communities of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties by crossing Tampa Bay, similar to the district now held by Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner.

Continue reading "Bill Galvano offers a new map and alternative plan for choosing who avoids re-election" »

Ken Detzner remains silent on 4-year Senate terms but what about residency rule?

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has received a few questions -- from supervisors of elections, reporters, etc. -- about what he thinks of the legal argument advanced by Sen. Bill Galvano to allow senators in the middle of a four-year term to not run for re-election in 2016 even if their districts are redrawn.

His answer: no comment. 

"At this point, there isn't an opinion from the agency because, from our perspective, it's too far out,'' said Meredith Beatrice, Detzner spokeswoman. "We're waiting for the outcome. The districts are not drawn yet and we're not drawing them."

The Florida Constitution requires that senators are elected to four-year terms except when the districts change because of reapportionment. The Senate lawyers contend that that exception should only apply once in a decade, even when redistricting challenges require the districts to be redrawn. 

Here's the law:

"Senators shall be elected for terms of four years, those from odd-numbered districts in the years the numbers of which are multiples of four and those from even-numbered districts in even-numbered years the numbers of which are not multiples of four; except, at the election next following a reapportionment, some senators shall be elected for terms of two years when necessary to maintain staggered terms."

Another issue: when do residency requirements kick in? If a senator who is not up for re-election in 2016 is drawn into the same district as another, doesn't this give them two years to move before moving in this his or her district?

Continue reading "Ken Detzner remains silent on 4-year Senate terms but what about residency rule?" »

October 20, 2015

Two Democrats file bills to impose penalties for violating gerrymandering ban

Taxpayers shouldn't be the only ones on the hook when legislators violate the state's anti-gerrymandering laws, legislators should pay up too, according to a bill filed Tuesday by two Democratic lawmakers. 

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando and Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg filed legislation that imposes penalties for when legislators violate the Fair Districts provisions of the Florida Constitution. The bills, SB 6-C and HB 3C, would impose penalties up to $5,000 for any violation and require the Legislature to also consider either censure, reprimand or expulsion from the legislature as punishment.

The bill has been filed for the 2015 C Special Session which began Monday.

“I have heard inquiries from countless constituents as to why no penalty exists for violating the Fair Districts Amendments,” Soto said in a statement. “This bill gives assurances to the people that if legislators violate their pledge to uphold the Constitution, real penalties await them.”

Dudley said the legislation was overdue.

“It’s about time we hold the people accountable who have defiantly, flagrantly and maliciously wasted millions of taxpayer dollars in order to perpetuate their own incumbency,'' he said in a statement. "Considering that stealing a piece of bubblegum can result in a sixty-day jail sentence and a $500 fine, we must create commensurate penalties for those who take millions while making a mockery of our democracy."

Continue reading "Two Democrats file bills to impose penalties for violating gerrymandering ban" »

October 19, 2015

Big questions loom as redistricting session starts, here are some of them

S9070Legislators return to the state Capitol on Monday for yet another session on redistricting. This time, they’ll be drawing the state Senate map and it's going to get difficult and personal. (Here's our set-up story on that.) 

They also will use the three-week period to get some work done, in anticipation of the legislative session that begins in January -- two months earlier than normal – by hearing bills and getting agency briefings in committees.

But the main event are the maps. Here are some questions we'll be asking, and watching:

• Base map, space map?

The House is focused on the base map, arguing that using a map drawn by staff in relative seclusion with only the hired attorneys at hand is the purest way to avoid improper partisan intent. The Senate is ready to agree, arguing that the maps are a starting point and that want – and expect -- some refinements. What happens with the base maps and whether the House will agree to any alterations of them will be key.

• Row, row, row across Tampa Bay?

Continue reading "Big questions loom as redistricting session starts, here are some of them" »

October 16, 2015

Senate makes its case to court: It's congressional map is better and trial court got it wrong

In the redistricting battle that has become Tallahassee's political soap opera, the Florida Senate on Friday asked the state Supreme Court to reject the map recommended by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis which it says was "drawn in secret'' and instead pick one of the two maps offered by the Senate. 

On Oct. 9, Lewis recommended the high court approve the map drawn by the challengers in the case, the League of Women Voters, which borrowed 20 of the districts approved by the House and revised the rest. 

The Senate called that an affront to their "transparent" redistricting standards because it "allowed parties with unknown motivations to lurk in the shadows looking for ways to modify the Legislature’s work."

They also argue that the map drawn by the plaintiffs, diminishes the ability of Hispanics to be elected to District 26, now held by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. Lewis had rejected that argument, saying the evidence supplied by the witness for the House, Florida International University Professor Dario Moreno was anecdotal. 

"The Order fails to recognize, however, that this Court did not require the Legislature to draw Florida’s congressional districts completely from scratch,'' the Senate added. "...The Senate designed Plan 9062 to preserve current District 16 while reducing the number of splits to Hillsborough County from four to three. Because any resulting difference in compactness is negligible, Plan 9062 is a superior map."

The alternative, Plan 9066, submitted by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, after the session adjourned "offers an improved configuration of Central Florida,'' they argued. 

It also said the court should reject the challengers' maps because they "were drawn in secret, instead of in the open and transparent legislative process this Court envisioned in Apportionment VII."

The court will hear arguments on the maps on Nov. 10. Until then, lawmakers will be focused on another redistricting drama, playing out over their self-imposed special session starting Monday to redraw the Senate maps.  

House asks for and receives delay in oral arguments on redistricting map

The Florida Supreme Court has granted a request for a delay in the oral arguments for the congressional redistricting map, postponing the hearing originally set for Monday, Nov. 2 to Tuesday, Nov. 10.

The Florida House of Representatives requested the delay, suggesting that it "would suffer extreme, manifest hardship" if its lawyers were forced to appear in court when they could be advising the House and Senate on the three-week redistricting session that ends Nov. 6.

The House has spent $4.3 million on legal fees relating to redistricting to date. The Senate has spent $5.3 million but it's lawyers did not join in the request for delay. 

"The active participation of the House's legal counsel at that committee meeting is essential to an informed evaluation of any such plans or amendments,'' the House lawyers wrote in the request filed on Thursday.

"...The House would suffer extreme, manifest hardship if its counsel were unable to participate in the committee meeting, or if members of the committee who have made arrangements in reliance on the published schedule were required to rearrange their schedules, including their travel to and from Tallahassee."  Download Filed_10-15-2015_Motion_for_Continuance and schedulng order

The court agreed to give them another week and a day, adding in all caps: "NO CONTINUANCES WILL BE GRANTED EXCEPT UPON A SHOWING OF EXTREME HARDSHIP." Download Filed_10-16-2015_Order_Rescheduling_Oral_Arguments 

$11 million later, legislators embark on third attempt at drawing Senate maps

In what may be one of the most expensive do-overs in Florida political history, lawmakers return Monday in special session to complete something they failed to get right three years ago — the realignment of state Senate district boundaries to accommodate population growth.

The three-week redistricting session comes after legislators admitted in July that they violated the new anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution when they drew the Senate map to benefit incumbents and political parties in 2012 as part of the state’s once-a-decade reapportionment process. This time they will try again to revise the map and then will seek court approval for the final plan.

Lawmakers have already tried and failed three times to redo the congressional map and, after four special sessions and three years of legal battles, the cost to taxpayers of their botched exercise will have exceeded $11 million when this session is over.

More here.