by: Matt Dixon|Politico Florida
August 18, 2015
The full House on Tuesday passed baseline congressional maps impacting a handful of incumbents and, in the process, re-ignited a tension with the Senate that dominated much of last spring’s legislative session.
Lawmakers are in the final week of a special session needed to redraw congressional lines after the Florida Supreme Court ruled the current lawmaker-drawn districts were drawn to favor Republicans, something at odds with state anti-gerrymandering provisions.
To begin the special session, the Legislature used maps drawn by staff—without any input from members—to insulate the new maps from partisan influences.
The House passage of that baseline map came on a 76-35 vote, with nine Republican voting against the plan and nine Democrats joining with the GOP majority.
Many of the Republicans opposing the plan resented what they deemed judicial overreach.
“I am not going to agree with the Supreme Court that I broke my oath,” said state Rep. Doug Broxson of Gulf Breeze.
In the wake of justices tossing the lawmaker-drawn maps, some Republican members have called for legislation during the 2016 session that takes aim at the court.
“Whatever ideas that are out there, I think we should listen and hear what they are,” Charles McBurney, a Jacksonville Republican who chairs the chamber’s judiciary committee, said after the House grudgingly approved the baseline maps.
Some Democrats came to the defense of the courts, saying the Republican-led Legislature, not the courts, violated the constitution.
“We’re not here because of the courts. We’re here because of the former leadership of this chamber,” said House Minority Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach.
Whether or not to pass the baseline maps is where the newest rift between the two chambers emerges. The House decided to pass the map unchanged, while the Senate has passed at least one amendment to the baseline map and could consider more.
In a vocal jab at the Senate, Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach said the Senate should not have changed the map, and was also critical of its decision to settle a separate lawsuit that challenged the state Senate maps.
As part of the settlement, the Senate acknowledged its maps were drawn at odds with the state anti-gerrymandering provisions. Because of this, Gaetz said, the Senate has no leverage to redraw the maps or be critical of the judiciary.
“When you have legislators confessing to unconstitutional conduct … I don’t know if that’s the time to be critical of another branch of government,” he said. “They are tinkering with the maps … the nerve.”
Gaetz was specifically angered that, as part of the settlement, the Legislature gives up its “constitutional presumption of correctness,” which assumes legislation passed by the Legislature is legal until proven otherwise. It means when lawmakers return to Tallahassee in October for a special session to redraw the state Senate maps, lawmakers will have the burden of proving any changes they make are legal.
“The House made a mistake by not objecting to that position, in my opinion,” Gaetz said.
The relationship between the two chambers has been acrimonious after a political slugfest during the regular legislative session over health care funding led to very vocal feud. That, in part, derailed the regular session and forced lawmakers into legislative overtime to pass a state budget.
The fight was most fierce over Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The Senate wanted to draw down nearly $50 billion in federal money over eight years, while the House refused to pass a plan that used additional federal funds for coverage.
Until this point of the special session, any residual tension has been rendered moot because each chamber had been working on its own plan. In fact, members have been reluctant to discuss the process with anyone out of fear it could prompt another rejection by the courts.
“I don’t think anyone is talking to anyone right now,” state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon said Monday.
For the House and Senate to work out differences in their plans, however, the map-drawers in both chambers must now work together.
So, will tension rule during the final days of special session?
“I hope not,” said Senate redistricting chairman Bill Galvano of Bradenton. “That is certainly not the perspective I bring to the table, and don’t have any indication other member of the Senate, including the president, have that perspective.”
He said the state Supreme Court’s ruling faulted both chambers for allowing political consultants to impact the map-drawing process.
“Whether you agree with that or not, we are in this together,” Galvano said.
The unchanged baseline map impacts a handful of incumbent members of Congress from both parties.
It puts Republican Rep. Dan Webster of Orlando in a seat that becomes much more Democratic-leaning. His 10th Congressional District is now nearly impossible for a Republican to win, and has already prompted high-profile Democrat Val Demings, the former Orlando police chief, to get in the race.
The new map also forced Republican Rep. David Jolly to run for U.S. Senate. His Pinellas County seat gets an influx of Democratic voters under the new plan, which makes the swing seat a likely easy pickup for Democrats.
In North Florida, Democrat Gwen Graham of Tallahassee is now left in a seat that picks up large swaths of conservative North-Central Florida, a change that has stoked rumors she will either move or run for U.S. Senate.
The political realities for those members are not altered greatly in the Senate’s plan, which will be considered for the first time by the full chamber on Wednesday.
Its version’s biggest change removes Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key from Hillsborough County, decreasing that county’s splits from three to two. It was a top priority of Lee, who authored the amendment that was passed Monday by the Senate redistricting committee.
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