Senate sends combination map to high court

Florida House's proposed map of Florida Senate districts.
Florida House's proposed map of Florida Senate districts.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Senate on Wednesday recommended to a Leon County judge a plan for the chamber's 40 districts that was never voted on by either the House or Senate during a recent special redistricting session.

 The proposal to Circuit Judge George Reynolds, who will ultimately decide which map to suggest to the Florida Supreme Court, would essentially combine two "base maps" that were drawn by legislative aides in the run-up to the special session. Legislative leaders say that process insulated the base maps from political pressures that could have led to violations of the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" amendments approved by voters in 2010.

 The special redistricting session, prompted by a legal settlement between the Legislature and voting-rights organizations that challenged the current Senate map, ended in failure after lawmakers couldn't agree on how to redraw the map to fix districts that violated the Fair Districts standards.

 The idea to blend two of the base maps is not entirely new. The Senate originally floated the possibility as a way to break the logjam with the House over a handful of seats in South Florida that were central to the disagreement between the two chambers. But the House never accepted any of the Senate's proposed combinations, and neither side voted on any of those plans.

 Instead, the Senate voted down the House's version of the districts and the session ended.

 "When the bill failed, the Legislature was left without a map," Katie Betta, a spokesman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, wrote in an email late Wednesday. "At that point, the decision of what map to present to the court became a question of litigation, not legislative directive. Senate rules vest the authority to manage litigation in the Senate president."

 Betta said the new map also addresses concerns that some senators had with the House proposal. That plan used a version of South Florida originally drawn by the voting-rights organizations, which legally challenged the existing maps drawn by the Legislature in 2012.

 Republican senators from South Florida, though, said the House proposal would weaken Hispanic voting strength in three districts meant to elect candidates preferred by Latinos.

 According to a filing with Reynolds, the only difference between the new Senate plan and the base maps it combines is a "technical change" that "moved only 1,862 people" in South Florida.

 Reynolds was also expected to receive proposed maps from plaintiffs in the original lawsuit, which included the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida. The House said in the wake of the recent special session that it would defer to decisions made by the Senate in this case.