TALLAHASSEE -- After days of listening to how their staff redrew Florida's 27 congressional districts in relative seclusion, state legislators Wednesday started taking their own turn at remapping the state.
By the end of the third day of the 12-day special session on redistricting, at least eight state legislators were working on alternative redistricting plans that, in some cases, would significantly change an initial base map lawmakers started debating Monday. The result is who will represent millions of Floridians in Congress is far from being resolved.
On the national front, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, took a different approach to halt the Legislature's redistricting process because of how it portends to change the 5th District she has represented since 1993. Brown said she was filing a lawsuit calling on the federal courts
to block the Florida Supreme Court's directive to change her snaking Jacksonville-to-Orlando district because it would reduce the percentage of black residents who are of voting age.
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"Today, I filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking relief against the continued use of any congressional redistricting plan that dilutes the voting strength of African-Americans," Brown said in a statement to the media.
The Florida Supreme Court earlier this summer ordered the Legislature to meet in a special session to fix the state's congressional districts. The court ruled the Legislature's previous redistricting process was "tainted" and eight state districts violated constitutional mandates against favoring incumbents or political parties.
Proposed amendments to the Legislature's base map make clear where the primary battle fronts will be over the course of the next two weeks. Hillsborough, Sarasota, Palm Beach and Leon counties were all key topics Wednesday as legislators raced to prepare new maps in time to be considered during daylong committee hearings planned Thursday and Friday.
"As long as there is a real justification for what they are proposing, any amendments will be seriously and legitimately considered," said state Sen. Bill Galvano, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee.
All of Manatee County would be included in a new 16th Congressional District, which also would include about 150,000 residents in south Hillsborough County -- including Riverview, Apollo Beach and Sun City Center -- and the portion of Sarasota County north of Clark Road (State Road 72). It would preserve the core of a district now represented by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.
Under the current map, far East Manatee is a separate district from Bradenton and Sarasota.
State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said his proposed amendment would stop Hillsborough County from being diced up into four congressional districts with only one represented by a Hillsborough resident. Lee said his plan is to bring more of eastern Hillsborough county into one district so Hillsborough has a better shot at electing two members to Congress.
Another amendment by state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, would put most of Hillsborough County south of the Alafia River into a the 17th District, held now by state Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee. That would help keep all of Sarasota County's 380,000 people contained in its present 16th District, represented by Buchanan. Legislative staff had proposed Rooney's district including part of southern Sarasota County, with Buchanan's territory picking up southern Hillsborough.
"We're giving it our best try to put Sarasota County back together," Detert said.
It's a similar goal in Leon County, where state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, was working on a proposal to keep Leon County together in a single district, instead of splitting it as the legislative staff had proposed.
An opposite directive came from Palm Beach County. State Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, wants to keep the coastline represented in the 22nd District by Rstate ep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, instead of putting most of that territory into a more inland district held by state Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton.
The new map is the latest twist in a four-year struggle by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to redraw the state's 27 congressional districts as required after every federal Census.
-- Herald/Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.