Redistricting Impasse Prompts Differing Solutions

Aug 31, 2015

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) says it's time for Florida to have an independent redistricting commission.
Credit Nick Evans

The mutual recriminations over Florida’s congressional borders are hardly finished echoing in the halls of the state Capitol.  But a group of Florida lawmakers want to put an end to the argument—permanently.

In the wake of Florida’s redistricting debacle, some Democratic state lawmakers have called for an independent commission for drawing borders.  U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) thinks that’s the right idea.

“At the bottom line, at the end of the day, what are you trying to do?” he asks.  “You’re trying to let the people decide, instead of gerrymandering districts that snake all over the place, that have a predetermined outcome before the election is ever held.”

Establishing a commission requires amending the state constitution, which means gaining approval from 60 percent of the electorate.  Nelson suggests a proposal might come out of the 2017 constitutional revision commission. 

Rep. Mike Hill (R-Pensacola Beach) says the Fair Districts amendments violate the U.S. Constitution.
Credit Florida House of Representatives

But while Democrats are looking to supplement Florida's fair districting provisions, a North Florida Republican wants to go in the opposite direction.  Rep. Mike Hill (R-Pensacola Beach) is challenging the amendments in federal court.  

During the most recent special session, party leaders cautioned lawmakers against speaking with people outside the Capitol as a way of insulating the redistricting process from partisan influence.  Hill argues that limited speech in violation of the first amendment.  But League of Women Voters attorney David King says not so fast.

“The limitations on that only occurred later in the remedial process,” King says, “and they were self-imposed by the Legislature themselves.”

Voters approved the measures outlawing partisan reapportionment in 2010.