TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Senate approved its second-chance redistricting map by a wide margin Thursday, leaving lawmakers and would-be candidates waiting to see if the House and the Florida Supreme Court will sign off on the change.
The new draft of the boundaries for the upper chamber (SJR 2-B) sailed through on a 31-6 vote, with five Democrats joining all 26 Republicans present in approving the plan.
Senate leaders rebuked by the court for their first draft, which paired no incumbents, praised the new plan for following the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments approved by voters in a November 2010 referendum.
"There are Republicans pitted against Republicans, there are Republicans pitted against Democrats, and when this Senate convenes again, there will be more minorities on this floor than ever before in Florida history," said Senate Reapportionment Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
In fact, there will be two examples of incumbents drawn into the same district if the map is approved by the House and the Supreme Court: Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, would live in the same district as Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, a district that runs from northern Volusia County to Orlando; and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, would be in the same district as Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, in a coastal district in Southeast Florida.
Those incumbents could avoid facing each other if one of them were to move before taking office.
But Democrats still slammed the map, saying it ignored the Supreme Court's 5-2 opinion striking down the first map and still appeared aimed at securing a GOP majority and shielding incumbents. That was particularly galling, Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich said, given that the court spelled out in the first ruling exactly how lawmakers should interpret the new standards.
"We may have had an excuse the first time, but for this go-around there simply is none," said Rich, D-Weston. "The plans we are voting on I believe seem to ignore much of what the court opinion told us."
The sharpest fight of the day, though, came over an amendment by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, removing Plant City from a Lakeland-area district and rearranging other lines in Central Florida. Latvala said his main motivation was to keep Plant City, which is in Hillsborough County, in a district with the rest of that county, which also includes Tampa.
The city was paired with parts of Polk County when Senate mapmakers followed the court's suggestion to unite Lakeland in a single Senate district.
"These people don't want to be represented by Lakeland," Latvala said.
But opponents of his amendment argued that the changes did not specifically address any of the court's concerns and were actually motivated by a change in another part of Latvala's plan that would avoid a GOP Senate primary between Rep. Denise Grimsley of Sebring and former Rep. Bill Galvano of Bradenton.
And they noted that it diluted Polk County's influence in one of two districts that were heavily influenced by the area under Gaetz's plan. Latvala's amendment dropped Polk's share of the District 21 voting-age population from 50.4 percent to 39.1 percent.
"I understand that people in here want to help their friends, some of the House members, to come over here," said Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. "But that should not be done on the backs of citizens of Polk County."
Latvala's amendment was approved on a 20-15 vote, with five Republicans and all 10 Democrats who voted opposing it.
The overall plan still faces potential hurdles before taking effect. The Supreme Court will eventually review the new map, with opponents gearing up to vigorously challenge it in arguments before the justices.
"It has become abundantly clear that the GOP-controlled Legislature lacks the leadership to draw maps that comply with Fair Districts," Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said. "As expected, we now turn to the courts to enforce the people's will."
There are rumblings that, even before that, some House lawmakers could try to amend the plan to add a fourth majority-Hispanic seat in Miami-Dade County.
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla -- a Miami Republican whose brother would likely be a candidate for that seat -- pushed unsuccessfully for the seat but said House members are already considering an alternative version. Even if that's not successful, Diaz de la Portilla said, a challenge to the map under the federal Voting Rights Act is likely.
One way or another, "there will be soon that fourth Hispanic seat the community is clamoring for and demanding," he said.
But any effort to change the map in the House could prove complicated and would shred a "gentlemen's agreement" between the House and the Senate not to change each other's maps.
Even though the House plan was approved by the court, Gaetz made it clear he still expects House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican set to become speaker in November, to follow the deal.
"My understanding with the speaker-designate is not that he will take bad work, but that he will take good work and that he will defer to the Senate," Gaetz said.
House lawmakers return to Tallahassee next week to consider the plan.
Copyright 2012 by The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.