New Senate maps heading back to courts for review

The Republican-dominated Florida House approved a Senate redistricting map drawn to fix errors identified by the Supreme Court.  However, James Call reports, Democrats are calling on the justices to again strike down what they call an incumbent-protection scheme.

The next stage in the once-a-decade process of dividing Florida into legislative districts is a return engagement at the Florida Supreme Court. House Redistricting Chairman, Wesley Chapel Republican Will Weatherford appears unconcerned that Democrats are calling on the court to reject the plan.

"Whenever you draw maps there are always going to be concerns. Nobody ever gets what they want and that is part of the process. When you have a fair process you draw it based on what legal compliance is there is always going to be people who draw it differently ."

Almost three weeks ago the Court directed lawmakers to draw the map differently. Justices said the legislature’s first effort did not follow new guidelines voters had approved. The Court cited eight districts as evidence of improper intent. Critics call it incumbent protection. The Senate’s original proposal did not place any two sitting senators in the same district, where as the map for the House of Representatives, which was approved by the court, had a third of the membership drawn into a reelection campaign against another incumbent. The new senate map places two incumbents against each other. 

 "But the court doesn’t say you have to do that. It’s the intent if you have the intent to make sure that incumbents don’t run against each other than that is a problem. But if you are in compliance with the amendment that is what they are looking at it is compactness, its geographic boundaries, it’s making sure that there is no political intent and the protection of minority districts."

And Weatherford says, the new map does that. Democrats agree that it is an improvement but argue it still does not comply with the Fair Districts amendment to the constitution. Palm Beach Democratic Rep. Evan Jenne offered an amendment fixing what Democrats see as lingering problems of compactness and minority representation.

"We think that the Jacksonville area could be more compact. We think there are some issues with western Orange County that could be more compact. And certainly some issues down in Palm Beach and Broward where we could bring compactness. In Hillsborough we could do a little better of a job to making it more friendly to the DOJ numbers, the Department of Justice numbers in terms of what the actual minority district looks like. So we make that a little more friendly to the DOJ guidelines."

The amendment was defeated along a party line vote. Jenne knew he didn’t have the votes to implement the changes. House Democratic leader Ron Saunders says House Republican leaders were committed to a gentleman’s agreement with the Senate to allow each chamber to draw its own map. Saunders say Democrats lined up behind the Jenne amendment to make a statement, to the Supreme Court.

"No matter how good a Democratic amendment would be it is not going to pass. We still we should offer if for no other reason than to give an alternative to the court to look at."

The House approved the senate map 61 to 47. The attorney general now has 15 days to transmit it to the Supreme Court. The justices will have 30 days to review it. If they reject it then the Court will draw the new districts for this November election.