This blog has moved.

Please visit our new page here

« Charter school backers find little support in Tallahassee this year | Main | Mitt Romney is fundraising in Miami's Fontainebleau »

Redistricting session puts Senate under the gun again

Fresh off a bruising 60-day session that ended Friday, the Florida Senate will remain in the spotlight this week when legislators travel back to the capital city Wednesday for a special session to redraw the court-rejected Senate map.

It will be a one-sided exercise, as the House leadership has decided to continue its "gentlemen's agreement" and allow the Senate to redraw its own lines. During the first redistricting round earlier this year, each chamber also drew its own maps but the court upheld only the House plan.

Both chambers, however, will return to Tallahassee Wednesday to convene their two-week session beginning at 1 p.m. House members will press a green button to indicate their attendance and then most of them will turn around and head home until ordered to come back to vote on the Senate map.

After the brief session convenes, the House and Senate redistricting committees are scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon for two hours each, to get updates on the March 9 Florida Supreme Court ruling. The court voted 5-2 to reject the Senate map, specifically invalidating eight proposed districts for violating the new anti-gerrymandering rules, while it upheld the House map in its entirety 7-0. 

The committees are then expected to adjourn as the Senate staff works behind closed doors to reconfigure the Senate proposal. The Senate Redistricting Committee is then set to meet again on Tuesday, March 20, to discuss a new proposed map. Senators are tentatively scheduling a floor vote on Thursday, March 22, with a final vote taken Thursday or Friday. No word yet on when the House will return to sign off.

"The court also gave us a pretty good road map on how to make the adjustments so I feel as though we can get the job done and get the job done on time,'' Gaetz said after the legislature adjourned on Friday. "Wer'e not starting wtih a clean sheet of paper as some of our critics wanted us to."

House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said "the House is always going to show deference to the Senate when it comes to the Senate maps. But at the same time, we certainly have opinions. We're going to work with them and assist them in hopefully drawing a very legally compliant map." 

In the last two months, intraparty strife amid a leadership fight has bitterly divided the Senate. Factions of Republicans have joined with the chamber's 12 Democrats to stop attempts to privatize prisons, restrict abortion laws, expand Citizens Insurance to less-regulated surplus lines and make it easier for privately-run charter schools to take over struggling public schools.

In the last week of session, it seemed as if Senate leaders couldn't round up 21 votes for anything controversial, raising doubts about how easy it will be to pass a new map that doesn't protect all the incumbents.

Gaetz emphasized Friday that the court invalidated only eight of the Senate's 40 proposed districts so the fix will be limited. But the court specifically accused the Senate of drawing districts designed to protect incumbents, including Gaetz, and because the districts are scattered in every corner of the state and include the districts of most of the Senate's incoming leadership, it is unlikely the change will not have a massive spill over effect.

In addition to Gaetz, the court rejected the districts of Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, who like Gaetz lives in Okaloosa County; Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, the incoming Senate Democratic Leader; Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is campaigning to success Gaetz as Senate president; Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Sen. Gerald Richter, R-Naples.

Gaetz said the Senate on Wednesday will hear a presentation from attorneys and staff describing the ruling and its guidance in applying the redistricting standards. He wouldn't answer whether the Senate has already drafted an alternative but would say only that the Senate has "172 plans tee-ed up right now,'' referring to the dozens of maps submitted by the public during the lengthy public hearing process. "The issue is sorting throgh the implications of what the court ruling was.''

Lawmakers have until March 28 to complete their work and, as long as they are convened in session, they may not raise money for the re-election campaigns -- a decided disadvantage for the House whose redistricting map has pitted 38 incumbents against each other.

After the legislature passes its Senate map for a second time, Attorney General Pam Bondi will ask the court to review it again and the court will then have another 30 days to determine if the Senate followed the rules. If the court decides then that the Senate map is still out of compliance, the court is required to redraw the maps themselves.