Lawmakers File Redistricting Plans With Judge

BRANDON LARRABEE | WLRN | 09/15/2015

Lawmakers on Monday filed three potential maps of the state's 27 congressional districts for a Leon County judge to consider, as the deadline for turning plans into the court approached.

The state House wants Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to approve the last map that House members voted out during a special redistricting session that collapsed last month, while the Senate is floating two alternative proposals for the judge to consider.

After the session collapsed, the Florida Supreme Court gave Lewis the task of coming up with a map for justices to review. The Supreme Court struck down the current congressional map in July for violating the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" standards approved by voters in 2010.

A coalition of voting-rights organizations that challenged the districts and a group of voters, backed by the Florida Democratic Party, who also sued, could each file their own proposals —- leaving Lewis with at least five maps to choose from.

The House offered a slightly changed version of the "base map" drawn by legislative aides to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling striking down the old districts. Amid discussions with the Senate, the House proposed a map that also consolidated the cities of Groveland, Auburndale, Riviera Beach and Sunrise. But that failed to bridge a difference with the Senate, which wanted more far-reaching changes to the base map.

In a brief accompanying the proposed map Monday, lawyers for the House laid out how the plan was drawn.

"Professional staff prepared the base map without any external pressures or influences," the brief said. "Consistent with the directive from the presiding officers, neither professional staff nor legal counsel had any interactions with any person —-including members of the Legislature or Congress, their staff, and political consultants —- concerning their work on the base map prior to its public release on August 5, 2015, and neither professional staff nor legal counsel assessed the political implications of the base map, except where consideration of political data was legally required to assess compliance with state and federal minority voting-

rights provisions."

The two maps filed by the Senate include the final proposal to pass the upper chamber last month. It would consolidate much of eastern Hillsborough County into one district and make sure that Sarasota County was wholly contained in another district.

House members objected to the plan, spearheaded by Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon, because the cascading population trade-offs required to make the population of each district roughly equal would force a district that was contained entirely within Orange County under the base map to pick up some territory in Lake County.

The other plan from the Senate, prepared by Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was an effort to reopen negotiations with the House about a week after the end of the special session. House leaders declined the overture.

Galvano's final plan largely abandoned the drive to consolidate eastern Hillsborough, but would still put Sarasota County in one district. Manatee County would be pushed into a district with parts of Hillsborough County. As a result, Hillsborough would comprise a greater share of Congressional District 16 than it would under the House plan, potentially representing at least a partial victory for Lee.

Plans for the districts were originally supposed to be turned into the court by Monday. However, because of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, the parties that challenged the congressional plan drawn by lawmakers in 2012 have until Tuesday.

Lewis will hear arguments starting Sept. 24 on the proposed maps.


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