Will new Senate map create new direction?

Sun Sentinel Editoral Board | Sun Sentinel | 10/16/2015

Starting today, the Florida Legislature has a chance to accomplish two important things.

First, the House and Senate can demonstrate that — at last — they acknowledge the power of the people. They can use the three-week special session to produce a Senate map that adheres to the Fair Districts Amendments, which voters passed in 2010. They can produce a map that does not intentionally favor a party or any incumbents, provides reasonable minority access and splits as few cities and counties as possible.

Second, by producing the map — one map — they can show that Tallahassee might be able to get past this year's dysfunction.

A dispute over Medicaid expansion ended the regular session early. It took a special session to pass the budget. Key bills died.

In another special session, the House and Senate failed to agree on a map for congressional districts. The House passed one; the Senate passed two. The session became necessary when the Florida Supreme Court ruled in July that the Legislature's congressional map violated the Fair Districts Amendments.

The challenge is higher this time. The congressional map affects few, if any, legislators. The Senate map affects every senator not term-limited in 2016 — 30 of the 40 — and House members who are approaching term limits and want to run for the Senate. Almost every member of the current Senate served previously in the House.

Another complicating factor is the fight over who will become Senate president in 2017-18 — Jack Latvala of Pinellas County or Joe Negron of Martin County. In August, Negron produced pledges from 14 of the 26 Republicans. Latvala countered that because of the new map, some senators might not be in office after next year.

Latvala wants the vote for president to take place after the 2016 elections, not this December. Though Latvala and Negron are not on the Reapportionment Committee, expect each to push for a map that helps his supporters.

All the inside politics might make Floridians wonder if this special session means anything to them. Actually, it means a lot.

Districts drawn for voters, not politicians, make candidates appeal to a wider range of issues. Florida faces many problems that demand the attention of a Legislature that focuses too often on narrow interests and the needs of lobbyists. Too many new jobs are low-paying. Finances increasingly pinch the middle class.

Frustrated Floridians have used constitutional amendments to make their priorities clear — whether it's the class-size amendment of 2002 or the conservation amendment of 2014. However, the Legislature has ignored the public.

The Legislature, though, can't ignore the Florida Supreme Court. A lawsuit over the congressional map led to that July ruling. Seeing the result, the Legislature capitulated in the lawsuit over the Senate map.

Without waiting for a trial, the Senate stipulated that its map violated the Fair Districts Amendments. The Senate further stipulated that the burden of proof would be on the Legislature to show that the new map is constitutional.

When the House and Senate redistricting committees meet jointly this afternoon for four hours, members will consider six proposed Senate maps. Legislative staffers drew them, preserving a record of their discussions. The session does not replace the lawsuit.

One big change in all six maps involves District 34, which Democrat Maria Sachs represents. It currently runs along the coast from Fort Lauderdale to Boynton Beach. Roughly one-third of the residents live in Broward County.

The new District 31 most resembles Sachs' district. In the new versions, it would stop at Pompano Beach or include just a small area of Broward west of Deerfield Beach. The new District 34, which includes Fort Lauderdale, could run south to the Broward-Miami-Dade line and then curve west to Davie, or continue south to Miami Beach.

Four senators now represent Palm Beach County. That would drop to three. All six maps remove northern Palm Beach County from Negron's district. County leaders may protest if it appears that Negron will be running the Senate in two years.

As for Broward, the maps leave it chopped up among five senators. As with the congressional map, we argue that Broward would do better with fewer representatives who have larger pieces of the county.

Whatever map or maps the Legislature produces will go next to Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, who also presided over the congressional lawsuit. The plaintiffs, whose congressional map Lewis selected, also will offer maps at that time. The Florida Supreme Court likely will make the final decision.

Legislators have griped openly and loudly that the court has overstepped. On Friday, the Senate challenged the congressional map Lewis selected, arguing instead for one of the two it created. In fact, the Legislature has wasted nearly three years and $10 million on legal fees by defying the voters.

The do-over that starts today must be about more than maps.


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