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Lawmakers Head Home Without Resolving Congressional Map

The base congressional map.
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With the end of a special session looming, state lawmakers scrambled Friday—looking for a way to agree on a new congressional map for Florida.  But they failed to make any headway, and it leaves the door open for the state Supreme Court to redraw borders.

In Tallahasee Friday, the House and Senate gathered to raise the abiding question of our time:

What is it with lawmakers and deadlines? 

Over two weeks of special session, the House and Senate have followed different paths in advancing their proposals for Florida’s congressional borders.  Since staffers from both chambers developed a first draft, the House has been reticent to make changes.  The Senate on the other hand has been more open.  But Friday morning the strain was showing.

Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), chair of the Senate’s redistricting committee walked out on his House counterpart Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Miami Lakes) during a meeting.  It’s a sort of slight return to the unceremonious end of this year’s regular session, where House lawmakers took their ball and went home three days early.  

So how did the chambers reach this point?  Oliva says he can’t recommend the Senate’s map to his members because he’s afraid the court will reject it.

“You continue to go back to ‘if there are concerns.’  My concern is the interpretation of the Court,” Oliva says.  “The Court has shown its tendency to use circumstantial evidence and place the burden upon this Legislature, and that is what I’m trying to free us of.”

Oliva says because Senators made changes in the areas where they live, the Court might see tier one violations, valid or not.  The state Constitution requires district lines be drawn without an intent to favor an incumbent or party—that’s tier one—and in a manner that is compact and makes use of existing political and geographic boundaries—that’s tier two. 

Galvano argues the Senate map improves tier two compliance compared to the House version, and he says following Oliva’s tier one concerns to their logical conclusion just paints the Legislature into a corner.

“Obviously if we want to see spectres in the woodwork we could go around the state and see them everywhere,” Galvano says, “or we could box ourselves into a situation where Representatives and Senators from a certain region are unable to impact that region for fear that there’s some sort of parochial taint.”

But Galvano’s arguments proved unavailing, and the meeting ended abruptly. 

Shortly thereafter Oliva was on the House floor talking to his members about how to proceed.  He argued they should stay firm and send their proposal back to the Senate, which they did. 

But with time winding down, the Senate dug in as well, and twice sent resolutions to extend the session until Tuesday. 

The House wasn’t interested—voting the proposal down 89-2.

So where does that leave us?  The Supreme Court wants the matter settled by October 22, and the Leon County Circuit Court has asked for a map to be finalized by September 24 to allow time for review a potential appeal.  But with lawmakers leaving special session empty handed Florida is just diving further into uncharted territory.

“Based on what I saw today,” Oliva says, “if I’m just the average citizen, I’d say with what you’ve seen today, we’re looking at the Court redrawing the map.”

There’s still a month before the first deadline, and Galvano says the order allows for a bit of wiggle room.  But when it comes to reaching some kind of grand bargain, recent history gives little reason for optimism.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.