TALLAHASSEE -- A bitterly divided Florida Senate committee gave preliminary approval to a redistricting redo pushed by Republican leaders Friday that would split 13 communities in Miami Dade and Broward counties and force all 40 senate districts onto the ballot next year.
The Senate Reapportionment Committee voted 4-3 along party lines to bring a Republican-leaning map offered by state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, to the floor next Tuesday but its prospects for passage remained cloudy.
All three Democrats on the committee said they objected to the Galvano map, and two of the committee's four Republicans warned they may not support it next week because they fear it could run afoul of the state Constitution's anti-gerrymandering provisions.
"It is defiant. It is unnecessary. It is recalcitrant and I hope that our colleagues at the other end of the hall will recognize the fatal flaw that was placed on the record by our lawyers," said state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. He said the Senate's lawyers ordered staff to ignore the allegations in the lawsuit that forced lawmakers into special session to fix the Senate map when they drew the map, a decision that could lead the court to reject the plan and become "another black eye" for legislators.
The meeting came at the end of the first week of the three-week special session called to redraw the Senate map. Lawmakers called the
session after reaching a settlement in July with the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning plaintiffs who accused them of violating the Fair Districts amendments to the state Constitution.
The map proposed by Galvano, S9090, keeps four minority-majority districts that favor African-Americans and three minority-majority districts that favor Hispanics, all in Miami Dade. Although Miami Dade and Broward have some of the largest populations in the state, the map divides more cities in those counties than anywhere else in the state. And, like the current map that elected 26 Republicans and 14 Democrats, the majority of the districts in the new map favor Republicans -- although the map does create three stronger Democrat-leaning districts.
In the 2012 presidential election, for example, Mitt Romney would have won 23 of the districts and Barack Obama 17, according to an analysis by MCI Maps, a Democratic consulting firm.
The challengers claimed the Senate violated the Fair Districts amendments to the Constitution in 2012 by drawing a map that intentionally avoided pitting incumbents against each other, crossed Tampa Bay to strengthen a Republican district in Pinellas, split the African American community in Daytona Beach to benefit adjoining Republican districts, and unnecessarily packed black Democrats into districts across the state to help reserve safe seats for Republicans.
Lee and state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, complained all week Senate Republican leaders had not addressed those complaints when drawing the new maps.
"Simply drawing maps in a sterile process and not come out with maps that don't address the base allegations to me not only lacks common sense but seems defiant," said Lee, a former Senate president. "It seems unnecessarily dug into this notion that we have some superiority complex."
Galvano, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, told the committee he was "confident" the map would withstand constitutional challenge.
"We are all a test case," Galvano said. "Future legislatures will all be able to learn from us but we are all leaving skin in the game in order for them to have a lesson book to work from."
Galvano and state Rep. Jose Oliva, House Redistricting Committee chairman, ordered the staff to draw six "base maps" in consultation with House and Senate lawyers but without any input from legislators or political operatives.
House leaders have said they want the Senate to pass one of the base maps, preferably without any amendments from legislators, because they believe that is the strongest way to show the court it was drawn without any intent to protect incumbents or political parties.
More changes sought
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have scoffed at the idea and warned they may not support the Senate map without some changes.
"Don't fly us up here to have us just pick a map that's thrown in front of us," said state Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who has drawn an alternative map he plans to offer to the full Senate. "We as legislators should be involved in this process."
The only change to the map adopted by the committee on Friday was approving a numbering system that randomly assigned which senators would get four-year terms and which would get two-year terms when they run for re-election 2016. As a result, at least 32 members of the Senate, whose terms do not expire, will face re-election next year.