TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature is giving up the fight and will not contest a court ruling that redraws all of the state's 40 state senate districts for the 2016 election cycle.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he told Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlanado, on Wednesday that the Legislature should let court-ordered maps go into effect, even though he says there were legal issues that were open to appeal.
"My recommendation is for us not to appeal, and the Senate president has agreed," Galvano said.
The decision means that the state's new map will become official Feb. 8, when the clock runs out on the appeals process. It is the first time lawmakers have refrained from challenging a lower court ruling after four years of legal battles that have cost Florida taxpayers more than $11 million.
The new Senate map recasts Florida's political landscape, giving millions of people new representation and bolstering Democratic chances in 2016. It also ends a tumultuous process that led to four trials, three special sessions and eight rulings from the Florida Supreme Court.
Democratic party analysts say the new maps are fairer and gives them a better chance of winning additional seats in a Florida Senate that has been dominated by the Republican Party for most of the last two decades. Republicans now hold 26 seats in the 40-member chamber and Democrats hold 14. With 15 members leaving because of term limits or seeking other offices, the composition of the chamber could shift dramatically.
Voters in South Tampa, East Hillsborough, and large portions of Pasco County will get new state senators in the presidential election year, as a result of the map. In Miami-Dade, incumbent Sens. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, Dwight Bullard, R-Cutler Bay, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, and Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove, are forced to move or face an election battle against another senator.
Circuit Judge George Reynolds in Tallahassee ruled in late December that he was rejecting the Senate's latest attempts to draw district lines and turning instead to a map backed by a coalition of voting rights groups, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.
Senate leaders considered appealing the decision or asking for a re-hearing of the case, but Galvano said Wednesday that they are ready to accept the court ruling and move forward with the new districts in place for the 2016 election cycle. He said the issues he has can be addressed in future redistricting sessions, which happen ever 10 years after the U.S. Census is completed.
The Legislature's attempt to draw new district lines was complicated by the new rules imposed by the Fair District provisions of the state Constitution which barred lawmakers from drawing maps that favor incumbents or political parties.
They enacted a congressional district map and state Senate map that were used as the political boundaries in 2012, but both were struck down by the courts this year after a coalition of voters groups led by League of Women Voters and Common Cause brought evidence that showed they were drawn to protect the Republican majority or incumbent Democrats.
The decision not to pursue an appeal in the Senate case does not mean the end to the redistricting lawsuits, however. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, has filed a challenge in federal court claiming that the congressional map violates the federal Voting Rights Act. And the coalition led by the League of Women have two lawsuits seeking reimbursement for their attorneys fees.