House, Senate can't resolve differences on Senate districts

AP News
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Posted: Nov 05, 2015 7:47 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Senate rejected a map to create new districts for itself and adjourned Thursday, leaving the Legislature with its second failed special session this year.

The chamber voted 23-16 against the map that the House had approved Tuesday. Senators said the maps were flawed and would divide communities. They also criticized a constitutional amendment that they said forces them to put the shape of a district over the makeup of communities.

"The amendments to our constitution pulled the soul out of map drawing, pulled the soul out of districts," said Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who chairs the committee tasked with map drawing.

The vote means lawmakers will leave the state capital with no agreement and that the courts will make the final decision on how the Senate's 40 districts will be drawn.

"Now we fall into the hands of a court," said state Rep. Jose Oliva, a Republican from Hialeah who chairs the House committee on redistricting. "Nobody wins under that scenario."

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 requiring compact political districts that aren't drawn to benefit parties or incumbents. This is the third time that legislators have been forced to redraw state Senate districts in the past three years.

The state Supreme Court rejected their initial effort and forced legislators to return that same year. Then a coalition of groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, filed a lawsuit in 2012 against the second Senate map. The Legislature settled the case during the summer, shortly before it was scheduled to go to trial.

"By blaming the amendments, rather than themselves, they are simply perpetuating their opposition to the will of the people and engaging in the very conduct that Florida voters clearly wanted to eliminate from our state," said David King, the lawyer representing the coalition.

The Legislature also held a special session earlier this year to redraw congressional maps after they were rejected by the state Supreme Court. They also left that special session without coming to an agreement.

Democrats are using both failed sessions to argue lawmakers shouldn't be drawing political maps.

"Defeating the maps today underscores the need for an independent redistricting commission, truly free of outside influences and political tampering," said state Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa.

Republicans, who have a strong majority in both chambers, have generally opposed the idea.

"An independent commission would not be the answer," said state Senate President Andy Gardiner.

Oliva, however, said he's open to exploring the idea, but warned that even an independent commission might be made of members with biases.

"I'm not as optimistic that those people will be significantly more impartial than these people," he said.