Florida Senate admits map it drew is
Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Jeremy Wallace and Mary Ellen Klas
August 3, 2015
TALLAHASSEE -- After spending nearly three years and
millions of dollars defending its redistricting map, the Florida Senate
gave up the fight Tuesday as it conceded for the first time that the
courts were going to find it violated the state constitution.
Lawyers for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause have argued the
Republican-controlled Senate violated the so-called Fair Districts
provision of the state constitution that prohibits drawing lines to
favor a political party or any incumbents.
As a result of Tuesday’s settlement, the Legislature
will now be called into its third special session of the year to redraw
at least 28 of its 40 districts statewide.
|That special session is scheduled
from Oct. 19 to Nov. 6, two months after the Legislature
holds a special session in August to fix Congressional
districts that the Florida Supreme Court ruled earlier
this month had violated the state constitution.
“This is remarkable,” said David King, an attorney for
the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. “The
Florida Senate has admitted that they drew an
unconstitutional map and as a consequence of that, they
now have agreed to fix the problem.”
But state Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano,
R-Bradenton, disputed that interpretation. He said the
Senate did not concede it violated the law, only that it
was apparent that the courts were going to find it had,
based on the Congressional district ruling handed down
earlier in the month.
altering some lines on a map, the redrawing could have a
wide-ranging impact on who will lead the Florida Senate
and the state’s overall political agenda. If Republicans
retain control of the Senate in 2016, the redrawn
districts could make politically safe districts for many
incumbents more competitive. That in turn could shake up
an already tight contest between State Sen. Jack Latvala,
R-Clearwater, and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to
determine who will lead the chamber.
The Florida Legislature has set yet another
special session, this time for late October to redraw the
Florida Senate district lines that opponents had argued violated
the state constitution prohibition on gerrymandering to favor or
Beyond altering some lines on a map, the redrawing
could have a wide-ranging impact on who will lead the Florida Senate and
the state’s overall political agenda. If Republicans retain control of
the Senate in 2016, the redrawn districts could make politically safe
districts for many incumbents more competitive. That in turn could shake
up an already tight contest between State Sen. Jack Latvala,
R-Clearwater, and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to determine who will lead
If districts are redrawn as anti-gerrymandering groups have demanded,
the new districts will not be based on keeping incumbents in power. That
could result in more moderate districts, rather than ones in which party
primaries essentially decide the winners. It also means more moderate
candidates that have to appeal to both parties would have a greater
likelihood of being elected to the Senate for the final two years of
Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure in office.
Already the Republican-dominated Legislature has been paralyzed at times
as the often more conservative House has fought with a more moderate
Senate over issues like Medicaid expansion and state spending. In April,
the Legislature ended its annual spring session without passing a budget
after a dispute over hospital funding programs and Medicaid overran the
agenda. That forced the House and Senate to hold a three-week special
session in June to finish their work.
While the Senate and Congressional map is being redone, the 120
districts drawn by the Florida House in 2012 remain intact and are
unlikely to change. Democrats hold just 39 of the 120 seats in the
House. Even if the Senate sees new faces and more moderates elected, the
House will remain mostly unchanged because those maps are not involved
in any ongoing litigation.
In court documents filed Tuesday, the House and Senate specifically
absolve the House of any blame for the Senate map. In a joint statement
sent to the media by Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker
Steve Crisafulli, the chambers declare the House “had no knowledge of
any constitutional infirmities relating to the Senate Plan.” Still,
while the Senate worked out the deal with the League of Women Voters and
Common Cause, the House had to agree not to object to it.
Similar to the procedures the Senate set up over the Congressional
redistricting for August, lawmakers said Tuesday that professional staff
and legal counsel will be charged with developing a new map without
members participating or political influence. Then when the map is
presented, it will be given to everyone simultaneously and be amended
only in public view.
Those procedures are aimed at preventing a repeat of the Congressional
redistricting problems identified by the Florida Supreme Court earlier
this month. In its landmark ruling, the court invalidated the state’s
Congressional map detailing how political operatives “infiltrated” the
process, used fake email accounts to submit maps as nonpartisan private
citizens and created districts that found their way into the final map
approved by lawmakers.
Because it is the third time that Republicans in the Senate have had to
draw the lines to comply with the 2012 voter-approved amendment aimed at
stopping overt gerrymandering, King said he is “pretty skeptical” that
they will get it right.
Nevertheless, there is insurance in that the agreement reached Tuesday
allows the court to retain jurisdiction and serve in an oversight
capacity as the new map is drawn.
The settlement also allows the court to decide whether taxpayers will be
responsible for paying for the attorneys fees for the plaintiffs. The
Legislature has already spent more than $8.1 million in defending the
maps. How much additional attorney fees would be has not been decided.
“The legislature defended the indefensible,” King said. “They spent
millions of dollars in defense and it comes to naught today.”
A major issue left undecided in Tuesday’s court ruling is how many state
senators could face re-election in 2016.
If the Senate alters all of the 40 Senate districts in at least a minor
way, it could force every district up for re-election in 2016, even
though 20 seats are not supposed to be up until 2018. Galvano said he’s
not convinced all 40 seats will have to go up for re-election. He said
there is nothing in Tuesday’s court stipulation that will mandate that.
The Senate’s concessions were the product of negotiations between the
Senate and lawyers for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, who
were planning for a Sept. 25 trial challenging the maps as
The Senate’s decision to hold the special session negates the need for