New Senate district maps head back to Florida Supreme Court

The Republican-led Florida Legislature finished its redistricting do-over on Tuesday and is sending a revised Senate map back to the state Supreme Court for final action. James Call reports the House vote 61-47 in favor of the plan, and ended a scheduled 15 day special redistricting session a day early.

The final vote was closer than previous House redistricting votes because 11 Republicans, mostly Cuban Americans, joined Democrats in opposition to the plan that originated in the Senate.  The opponents argued the map violates a Fair District provision in the Constitution that protects minority voting rights. During debate, Miami-Dade Representative Jose Felix Diaz argued census figures show there should be a fourth Hispanic Senate district in South Florida.

"It is hard to argue that there is no packing of Miami-Dade Hispanics when you have over three districts that are 70-percent Hispanic while their neighboring districts are 30-percent Hispanic. Why aren’t these districts more balanced? The senate was supposed to draw maps that protected the Florida constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. Yet what we have is preservation of the status quo; three Hispanic-performing districts in Miami-Dade County when four could have easily been drawn."

The legislature convened a special session on redistricting after the state Supreme Court rejected a plan dividing Florida into 40 Senate districts. The High Court flagged eight districts in violation of anti-gerrymandering standards, found a numbering system favored incumbents by circumventing a term limit provision in the constitution, and questioned why the residents of Lakeland were split into two districts. Senators say they took the ruling as a roadmap to drawing a better plan. 

 Volusia Representative Dorothy Hukill says she followed the Senate deliberations and examined alternative proposals. Hukill endorsed the Senate plan.

" I think the alternatives presented have illustrated that the map passed by the Senate address the court’s questions. I think now members, that at this point in time, it is time to return the map to the court and let them judge accordingly.

House leadership wanted a clean vote on the proposal, that is no amendments. The leaders of both chambers had a gentleman’s agreement to let the House and Senate draw its own map.  House Democrats say they were not part of the agreement and when they failed to make changes to the Senate-drawn map they tried to defeat the plan. 

"Members I rise in opposition to this map because it has no input from the House."

Hollywood Representative Joe Gibbons urged a no vote because it was lawmakers’ last chance to influence a map that will be used to elect senators for the next 10 years. Gibbons pointed out if the Court rejected the plan then the justices and not elected representatives would draw a map.

"Our constituents did not send us to this House of Representatives to abdicate our responsibilities to the senate we are not supposed to be here rubber-stamping anything. We are supposed to be have input on anything we vote for."

Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford acknowledged the concerns expressed by Hispanics and Democrats but says he is convinced the Senate map is constitutional.

"It is my belief that there are many ways to draw a compliant map. There is no one way to do it. I think the map they drew is compliant but again we will see what the court says."

Once the Supreme Court receives the senate map justices will have 30 days to review it. If they reject it then the justices will be responsible for drawing a new map. The redistricting plan needs to be in place for the fall election. The candidate qualifying period for offices on the November ballot is June 4th through the 8th.