State Politics

Florida House asks court to mediate redistricting; Senate objects

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, talks with reporters after adjournment of the special session on Friday.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, talks with reporters after adjournment of the special session on Friday. Tallahassee Democrat

The intra-party feuding that led to a legislative stalemate on congressional redistricting continued Monday as Republican House leaders split from the Senate and asked the Florida Supreme Court to allow a trial court judge to mediate their dispute.

“We are in an unprecedented and unique time, and every action we take is charting new territory,” acknowledged House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, in a letter to House members after House lawyers filed a motion asking the Florida Supreme Court to relinquish jurisdiction of the redistricting case for 60 days.

The House then asked the court to allow Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to conduct hearings and decide whether the House or Senate map is best.

But Senate President Andy Gardiner said in a statement late Monday that the Senate is not prepared to relinquish control to the trial court, which has set a scheduling hearing for Tuesday, and would prefer to come back into special session to find a compromise.

“During tomorrow’s hearing, the Senate attorneys will convey to the court the Senate’s continued willingness to compromise and work with the House to fulfill our responsibility to draw a constitutionally compliant congressional map for Florida,” he said. He noted that as the session deadline approached on Friday, the Senate “offered two resolutions to extend the special session and made numerous attempts to enter into a formal conference process to resolve differences between the House and Senate maps” but were rebuffed by House leaders.

The rift comes after the House and Senate spent three years, and more than $8 million in taxpayer money on legal fees, defending the congressional districts they jointly approved.

In July, the Supreme Court invalidated the state’s congressional map when it ruled lawmakers had violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution by drawing a congressional map that favored Republicans and incumbents. The court ordered the Legislature to redraw the districts according to a set of guidelines it set forth in its ruling and gave the trial court until Oct. 17 to review the Legislature’s work.

But when lawmakers adjourned the special session Friday without agreement on a joint map, that left the court with no clear direction.

House lawyers asked the court to relinquish jurisdiction for 60 days so that Lewis could “solicit proposed remedial plans” from both the House and Senate, conduct a hearing on the properties of each one, and then submit his recommendation to the high court as required in its July 9 ruling. They noted that their request adds only six days to the court’s 100-day timeline.

Crisafulli said that he believes the House map best meets the court’s criteria.

“I want to reiterate that this decision is not made because of personality or politics,” he said in his email. “I believe the base map [produced with House and Senate input] with the final House amendment [drafted as a constitutionally sound compromise with the Senate] best meets the requirements of Art. III, Sec. 20 of the Florida Constitution.”

The House’s request comes after House and Senate leaders spent two weeks bashing the court for “overreaching” when it proscribed guidelines for how to fix its map flaws.

“While it gives me great pause to ask the Court to decide this matter, I can assure you that the difference of opinion between the two Chambers is both significant and legitimate,” Crisafulli wrote.

Mary Ellen Klas is the Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau chief. She can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com or on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas.

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