Legislative committees approve new districts

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida lawmakers are one step closer to approving a proposal that would make changes to seven congressional districts to comply with a court order

The Legislature is holding a special session to draw up a new map of Florida's U.S. House districts in order to comply with a judge's ruling that boundaries were drawn to favor Republicans.

House and Senate committees approved Friday the new map altering the districts, which stretch from central to northeast Florida.

The session is being sparked by a judge's July ruling that found the 5th congressional district -- the seat held by Rep. Corrine Brown that snakes through 10 counties -- and the 10th district -- an Orlando seat held by Rep. Daniel Webster -- violated the "Fair Districts" amendment passed by voters in 2010 that says legislators cannot draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis last week gave legislators until Aug. 15 to draw up a new map.

The map proposed by House leadership changes Brown's meandering district to no longer include the city of Sanford in central Florida and adds more of Putnam County -- territory now part of District 6 currently represented by Ron DeSantis.

Members of the House committee voted down an alternative proposal from Democrats along party lines that would have made changes to only three districts, but that lessened the black voting age population in Brown's district from nearly 50 percent to 43.7 percent.

But a map proposed by the League of Women Voters and Florida Common Cause (right) makes significant changes to the North Florida-based districts, specifically changing District 5 from a district that stretches from Jacksonville west along the Florida-Georgia border to Gadsden County.

On Friday, the LWV and Common Cause sent a letter to the House and Senate leaders saying the new proposal for District 5, "Continues to use a minority-marginalizing relic of an era in which political gerrymandering was acceptable –- now it is not."

"It is disappointing that the Legislature has decided to consume taxpayer resources and valuable time by producing slides apparently meant to lampoon the length of the alternative version of CD 5 presented at trial, rather than engage in legitimate discussion about this very serious matter," wrote Deirdre MacNab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida and Peter Butzin of Common Cause.

Republican legislative leaders defended their new maps as the best way to comply with the court order without disturbing other districts throughout the state while obeying the federal Voting Rights Act's prohibition against undercutting minority districts.
"I think we did an excellent job. I'm very proud of it," said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. "(Judge Lewis) clearly said legally why we had to be here. We addressed all of his legal concerns."

Lewis has given lawmakers until next Friday to adopt new districts. He will hold a hearing Aug. 20 to decide whether to conduct a special election after the Nov. 4 general election in districts affected by the changes in the new map. The Republicans argue that any changes should take effect in 2016.
According to the Florida Department of State, 284,673 absentee ballots for the Aug. 26 primary election have already been cast statewide.

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