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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.