Broward County

Support for Senate redistricting plan remains uncertain

A bitterly divided Florida Senate committee gave preliminary approval to a redistricting redo pushed by Republican leaders Friday that would split 13 communities in Miami Dade and Broward counties and force all 40 senate districts onto the ballot next year.

The Senate Reapportionment Committee voted 4-3 along party lines to bring a Republican-leaning map offered by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, to the floor next Tuesday but its prospects for passage remained cloudy.

All three Democrats on the committee said they objected to the Galvano map, and two of the committee’s four Republicans warned that they may not support it next week because they fear it could run afoul of the state Constitution’s anti-gerrymandering provisions.

"It is defiant. It is unnecessary. It is recalcitrant and I hope that our colleagues at the other end of the hall will recognize the fatal flaw that was placed on the record by our lawyers,’’ said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. He said that when the Senate drew the map, its lawyers ordered staff to ignore the allegations in the lawsuit that forced them into a special session in the first place, a decision that could lead the court to reject the plan, becoming “another black eye” for legislators.

The meeting came at the end of the first week of the three-week special session called to redraw the Senate map. Lawmakers called the session after reaching a settlement in July with the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning plaintiffs who accused them of violating the Fair Districts amendments to the state Constitution.

The map proposed by Galvano, S9090, keeps four minority-majority districts that favor African Americans and three minority-majority districts that favor Hispanics, all in Miami Dade. Although Miami Dade and Broward have some of the largest populations in the state, the map divides more cities in those counties than anywhere else in the state. And, like the current map that elected 26 Republicans and 14 Democrats, the majority of the districts in the new map favor Republicans --although the map does create three stronger Democrat-leaning districts.

The challengers claimed the Senate violated the Fair Districts amendments to the Constitution in 2012 by drawing a map that intentionally avoided pitting incumbents against each other, crossed Tampa Bay to strengthen a Republican district in Pinellas, split the African American community in Daytona Beach to benefit adjoining Republican districts, and unnecessarily packed black Democrats into districts across the state to help reserve safe seats for Republicans.

Lee, and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, complained all week that Senate Republican leaders had not addressed those complaints when drawing the new maps.

“Simply drawing maps in a sterile process and not come out with maps that don’t address the base allegations…to me not only lacks common sense but seems defiant,’’ said Lee, a former Senate president. “It seems unnecessarily dug into this notion that we have some superiority complex.”

But Galvano, the chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, told the committee he was “confident” the map would withstand constitutional challenge.

“We are all a test case,’’ Galvano said. “Future legislatures will all be able to learn from us but we are all leaving skin in the game in order for them to have a lesson book to work from.”

Galvano and Rep. Jose Oliva, the House Redistricting chairman, ordered the staff to draw six “base maps” in consultation with House and Senate lawyers but without any input from legislators or political operatives.

House leaders have said they want the Senate to pass one of the base maps, preferably without any amendments from legislators, because they believe that is the strongest way to show the court they drew the map without any intent to protect incumbents or political parties.

But both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have scoffed at that idea and warned they may not support the Senate’s map without some changes.

"Don't fly us up here to have us just pick a map that's thrown in front of us,'' said Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who has drawn an alternative map he plans to offer to the full Senate. “We as legislators should be involved in this process.”

The only change to the map adopted by the committee on Friday was approving a numbering system that randomly assigned which senators would get four-year terms and which would get two-year terms when they run for re-election 2016. As a result, at least 32 members of the Senate, whose terms do not expire, will face re-election next year.

Galvano, who also serves as Senate Republican Leader, faces deep dissension within his own ranks to win enough votes to pass a map. Dividing the caucus is a bitter rivalry between Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, over who will be the Senate’s president in 2016.

Latvala, who is not a member of the committee, appeared at the committee Friday and echoed the concerns of Lee, a Latvala supporter. He warned that the proposed map is loaded with red flags that will prompt the court to invalidate it.

“This is history repeating itself,’’ Latvala warned. He said the map unnecessarily divides Miami-Dade, Pasco, Volusia and Sarasota counties in ways that are not justified. Of all the base maps produced, he said, this was the only one that has “miraculously no incumbents running against each other.”

In fact, the map does put some senators into the same districts, therefore upsetting the presidential battle politics. In Miami Dade, it appears that Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Latvala supporter, is drawn into the same district as Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, a Negron supporter, and with Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Culter Bay.

The committee heard about two proposed maps drawn by Braynon and Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth that draw districts that keep more communities in Miami- Dade and Broward togetherand do not cross Tampa Bay.

Braynon said his map made South Florida districts more compact and did not split as many communities and he urged the committee to make improvements, rather than rely on the staff-drawn plan.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com and (850) 222-3095 and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

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