Senate delays vote on new map amid procedural concerns

The Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee was scheduled to vote a new redistricting plan Tuesday but got bogged down on procedural issues. James Call reports, the panel agreed to delay final action until Wednesday.

The committee is meeting this week to fix problems in the Republican-controlled Legislature’s original Senate map. The Florida Supreme Court ruled eight districts and a scheme for renumbering all 40 districts violated new anti-gerrymandering standards. There are three proposals before the panel and before it met Tuesday, Jacksonville Senator John Thrasher reviewed the one offered by the committee chair, Don Gaetz.

"This is my district, I lose that little part of Duval County I had on the beaches, but I have all of St. John’s, I have all of Putnam where the Rodman Dam is, you know, all of Flager. Flager, in the testimony they always wanted to be with St. Johns. They didn’t want to be with Volusia they always felt they were left out."

Thrasher says he is satisfied with the proposal but other committee members had questions; detailed questions about the court’s concerns and how the committee chair and staff addressed them.  Tuesday, the committee spent much of the morning discussing whether it wanted to discuss  functional analyses of all 40 districts. Once Florida agrees on redistricting maps they are subject to federal review under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  But, some Senators, like Umatilla’s Alan Hays, argued it made more sense to address the concerns expressed by Florida courts before worrying about any federal objections.  

"Follow the points given by the court,.. Now, I get a sense we are fixing to open up the whole gambit and we are going to start looking at every district in the state based on their population and composition, based on their voting performance. Based on their party affiliation and I think we are headed down on a slippery slope of mass confusion."

 Given that Senators wanted to talk, the leadership revised the committee schedule and added an additional six hours of meeting time for Wednesday. Niceville Senator Don Gaetz who is the committee chair said he would not allow the committee to talk issues to death but that it is prudent to air out all points in a full discussion.

"This is a once-in-a-decade process. Senators want to be very careful about how they vote.  They want to make sure they understand every data point so that their vote is an informed vote. And all the questions asked and I believe the information gone through was valuable in the process. Some people may have been willing and able to go through that data quicker but our pace needs to be set in a way that every single senator is satisfied that her questions or his questions are answered."

The Committee will gather again Wednesday morning, presumably to vote out a proposal.  The full Senate will debate it  Thursday and vote on  Friday. Then,  next week, the House will vote on a new senate map.  The Legislature has until March 28th to reach an agreement.