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House moves forward with new congressional map

Proposed congressional map showing northeast Florida districts in a mapproposedby the Florida House redistricting committee.
Proposed congressional map showing northeast Florida districts in a mapproposedby the Florida House redistricting committee.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After rejecting a proposal by Sarasota County lawmakers, the Florida House appears poised Tuesday to approve a congressional redistricting plan that seeks to align with an order from the state Supreme Court.

House members Monday raised questions about a "base map" developed by staff members and attorneys but did not make any changes, setting the stage for approval Tuesday. The House and Senate, however, could pass different maps, forcing them to try to reach agreement on a final version before a special legislative session ends Friday.

The only proposed House change to the base map came from Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Venice Republican who sought to keep Sarasota County in one district. Under the base map, the county would be split in two.

Gonzalez said his constituents in southern Sarasota County worry about the representation they would get if the county is divided. Also, Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, said the current Congressional District 16, which includes the county and is held by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., has always been in compliance with legal standards and "wasn't one of the problem children" that led to the court order to redraw the state's congressional map.

But Gonzalez's proposal failed in a voice vote and appeared to have little support in the House. The Supreme Court last month ordered the redrawing of the map because it said eight current districts violate the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" requirements approved by voters in 2010. Lawmakers started a special legislative session last Monday.

Some Republican lawmakers expressed frustration with the Supreme Court order and raised questions about how they would know if they are passing a constitutional map.

"This decision of the Supreme Court is what we need to focus on,'' Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said at one point during discussion about Gonzalez's proposed Sarasota County amendment.

Earlier, House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said he could not guarantee that the proposed House map would be found constitutional.

"It is my opinion this map is constitutional," Oliva said. "How the court will find, I can't make any guarantees."