Legislature at impasse over how to draw Florida's congressional districts

JEREMY WALLACE AND MICHAEL AUSLEN | Miami Herald | 08/22/2015

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, 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.

But Oliva said the Senate plan had “inconsistent methodology” because in an effort to reduce splits to Hillsborough, they cut Lake County further into three districts.

The day’s result is that the Senate is prepared to meet again at 9 a.m. Friday with a clear choice: Pass the House plan and everyone goes home, or stick to the Senate plan and risk hitting noon without a deal.

Crisafulli refused to characterize the latest political divisions as a continuation of bad blood from previous conflicts with the Senate this year. In April, the House walked out on the Senate in the closing days of the annual session over a health care spending divide. In June, the two chambers battled in a special session to pass a budget before a July 1 deadline.

“I would never bring forward disagreements from the past,” Crisafulli said. “As a business person, I always know that when you’re trying to find common ground and compromise, the compromise is generally when both sides can consider a win and walk away with a good conclusion. I believe that what we’ve done is found good compromise out of the House, and hopefully the Senate can see that.”

The new House plan to keep Sunrise whole won praise from state Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation.

“One of the concerns I’ve heard is keeping the cities intact, so having Sunrise with one person they can work with and they can go to for their needs is good to me,” Edwards said.

But just as Galvano is signaling a refusal to back off the Senate plan, so, too, is Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who originally pitched putting all of eastern Hillsborough into Congressional District 15, now represented by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland.

Lee said he is prepared to defend his proposal.

“I never intended for us to be in this place right now,” Lee said. “Frankly, I’m kind of sorry we are.”


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