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Thursday, Sep 18, 2014
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Legislature approves redrawn congressional maps


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Wrapping up a special session, lawmakers passed redrawn congressional maps Monday that now head to a Tallahassee-area judge for final approval.

The new maps make tweaks to seven congressional districts.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled in July that two congressional seats were unconstitutional because they violated the Fair District amendments. Those changes to the Florida Constitution approved by voters aimed to take politics out of the redistricting process.

The final votes were largely along party lines, with the Senate passing the plan on a 25-12 vote and the House approving the plan by a 71-38 margin.

The maps will now head to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature before being sent to Lewis. The special session began Thursday.

Some Democrats said the fact the Republicans likely will continue to hold a 17-10 lead in Florida’s congressional delegation is evidence that the new maps are just “window dressing.”

“This will result in the exact same congressional makeup,” said state Sen. Jeff Clemons, D-Lake Worth. “How does that deal with the judge’s decision?”

State Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who led the Senate’s special session map-drawing, said partisan data couldn’t be considered when drawing the maps because of the Fair District amendments.

“You can’t engineer the political performance,” he said. “If you fix it, you violate the constitution.”

Democrats also took issue with the fact the new maps would specifically not become law until after 2014. They are hoping for congressional elections this year to be held on the new maps, a plan Republicans say would disenfranchise votes already cast by mail.

In his order, Lewis held out the possibility of a special election for the districts affected, but also stated he was unsure whether he could legally change election dates.

“Does that mean the judge’s hands are tied?” asked state Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek.

State Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Trinity Republican leading the House’s special session work, said the Legislature was only placing a date on when it wanted the maps in place, but Lewis could still have latitude to rule otherwise.

In his order, Lewis also slammed a handful of political operatives who were given a role in the redistricting process, which was supposed to be banned by the Fair District amendments. Democrats said the operatives were given a role by the GOP majority.

“Operatives, ladies and gentlemen, do not work on their own,” said Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale.

The two districts found unconstitutional were the 5th Congressional District held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and the 10th Congressional District held by U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Park.

Because many of the changes were made to those maps in the Central Florida region, maps in South Florida, North Florida and much of the Tampa Bay-area weren’t affected.

One change is to the district of U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, a Republican who represents Hernando and Citrus counties. His seat continues to include those counties, but the eastern portion picks up roughly 6,000 people in Lake County and loses a handful of people in Marion County.

The special session could have lasted until Friday, which was the deadline Lewis gave lawmakers for crafting a new map.

Matt.Dixon@naplesnews.com

(352) 233-0777

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