TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers again are going separate ways in drawing the boundaries of Senate districts, with the House advancing a plan Monday that strays widely from that approved by senators.
For Palm Beach County, the House proposal would mean three Senate seats for the county, just as the Senate plan does, but the districts would be different — enough so that the residences of the county’s three Democratic senators would all be in the same district.
The map, which combines portions of a map crafted by a voters’ coalition with changes sought by House leaders, cleared the Republican-controlled House Redistricting Committee on a 9-4, party-line vote, with Democrats opposing the measure.
With lawmakers set to end their three-week special session Friday, any detour from the Senate plan – narrowly approved last week – could prove risky. An August special session on congressional redistricting collapsed when the two sides couldn’t agree on a map, and the prospect of another dead-end loomed Monday.
“I hope not,” House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami.
He added, “We feel that what we have done is taken everyone’s concerns, put them together, in a more numerically superior map, in the hopes of being able to pass it. So, no, I don’t anticipate a collision course with the Senate.”
There was no immediate response from Senate leaders.
But in Palm Beach County, the House map could cause some political upheaval – if it becomes law.
The district now held by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, would be moved out of the Jupiter-Tequesta area it currently holds, instead comprising Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties. This approach has been embraced by the Senate.
But the three remaining Palm Beach County districts, currently held by Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, Joe Abruzzo of Wellington and Maria Sachs of Delray Beach, would undergo some transformation in the House plan – more severe than those outlined by the Senate.
For starters, the residences of all three lawmakers are lumped into the same central county district, which is similar to the one Clemens now holds. While he might be content staying there and retaining the bulk of his current voters, Abruzzo and Sachs are faced with a harder decision.
One of the remaining Palm Beach County districts proposed by the House splices together pieces of Abruzzo and Sachs’ current boundaries. It includes Abruzzo’s current, western county region, but also Sachs’ current area that dips into Boca Raton and Broward County, taking in parts of Deerfield Beach and Pompano Beach.
The third county seat would comprise northestern Palm Beach County, including West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach and such Republican-leaning communities as Jupiter, Tequesta, Juno Beach and Palm Beach Gardens, possibly making it less appealing for a Democratic candidate.
But Palm Beach County Democrats aren’t the only ones whose districts are sharply altered. Others affected include Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who is vying with Negron for the powerful post of Senate president next year.
Latvala would share a district with another senator, John Legg, R-Trinity, who supports him in the leadership fight with Negron. Another Panhandle supporter of Latvala, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, also has his hometown drawn out of the district he has represented, in the House map.
At the same time, the House abandons revisions pushed through the Senate by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, who sought to bolster Hispanic voting performance in three Miami-Dade County districts, with a move that assured he and two other senators would not be lumped into the same district.
Such potential conflicts between the two maps may doom chances the House and Senate reach agreement by Friday.
“I think it’s interesting to see how (Oliva) decided to pick and choose where he used the (voters’ coalition) map, and in some areas, did something else,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami.