House Passes Florida Redistricting, Goes To Supreme Court

"We put this in pencil," said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton. "The court's going to put this in ink."

The Republican-led Florida Legislature finished its redistricting do-over on Tuesday, sending a revised Senate map back to the state Supreme Court for final action.

The justices affirmed the House's initial 120-district map but kicked back the 40-district Senate plan. If they decide the Senate map again flunks its constitutionality test they can redraw it themselves.

"We put this in pencil," said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton. "The court's going to put this in ink."

The high court ruled the original Senate map violated new Fair Districts anti-gerrymandering standards in the Florida Constitution in part by intentionally favoring incumbents and Republicans.

The final vote was 61-47 in the House to close out a scheduled 15-day special redistricting session a day early. The vote was closer than prior redistricting roll calls because 11 Republicans, mostly Cuban-Americans, joined Democrats in opposition to the plan that passed in the Senate last week.

GOP opponents argued the Senate map violates a Fair Districts provision in the Florida Constitution that protects minority voting rights. They said census figures easily would support a forth Hispanic district in South Florida yet the map has only three.

"Here we are again, having to justify the blatant disregard for the Hispanic population," said Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami.

House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford later said he was convinced the Senate map is in line with the Fair Districts standards.

"We feel pretty strongly none of the districts retrogressed," the Wesley Chapel Republican said. "There's a lot of different ways to draw a compliant map."

The House also voted 72-36 to reject an alternate plan proposed by Democrats in a roll call that adhered closer to party lines.

Democrats acknowledged the new Senate map is an improvement, but they said it remains flawed.

"We'll see you in court," Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said in a terse statement.

Democrats said their map would have doubled up eight incumbents against each other. No two incumbents would have been paired under the Senate's original map.

The new version puts only two incumbents in a single district, but Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, has said if that stands he'll move to a nearby vacant district rather than oppose Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

The Supreme Court ruled eight Senate districts violated the Fair Districts standards. Besides favoring incumbents and the GOP, the justices cited a lack of compactness and a failure to follow geographic and political boundaries. To fix those districts, though, the Senate redrew the lines of 24 districts.

The justices also rejected the Senate's district numbering scheme, ruling it intentionally favored incumbents. Numbering is a factor because all districts are up for election in a redistricting year instead of just half.

Senators elected from odd-numbered districts will get four-year terms while those with even numbers will get just two years to keep the terms staggered.

The Senate's original plan re-arranged the numbers to give incumbents four-year terms if they currently are serving just two years, again due to redistricting.

The justices ruled that would have given too many incumbents a chance to serve nine to 11 years instead of the usual eight before being term-limited.

To avoid intentional favoritism, the Senate chose new numbers at random by using a pair of Bingo machines. That still worked to the benefit of most incumbents, though, as 20 of the 29 senators not being term-limited this year received numbers that would enable them to serve more than eight years.

The Senate also did analyses using voter registration figures and prior election results as ordered by the Supreme Court to determine compliance with the minority protection provision.

Those analyses also show Republicans, who currently have a 28-12 edge, would maintain a strong Senate majority, although Democrats have a slight edge in voter registration statewide.

Democrat Alex Sink would have won 15 districts in the 2010 gubernatorial race under the revised plan compared to 14 under the map stricken by the Supreme Court. In either plan, 16 districts would have voted for Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Obama won Florida and Sink lost to now-Gov. Rick Scott, both by narrow margins.

Besides Nunez, the Republicans who voted against the map are Reps. Frank Artiles, Michael Bileca, Jose Felix Diaz, Erik Fresen, Ana Rivas Logan, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and Carlos Trujillo, all of Miami; Eduardo Gonzalez, Hialeah; Denise Grimsley, Sebring, and Jose Oliva, Miami Lakes.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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