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House panel clears Jose Oliva map for state Senate districts

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The House redistricting panel on Monday OK’d along party lines a map filed by its chair to redraw the state Senate districts.

The Select Committee on Redistricting voted out the map that chair Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, had said borrows from the plaintiffs’ proposal.

The full House will next take up that map in its Tuesday floor session, scheduled for 3 p.m.

But committee Democrats still complained about voting data used for map-making not being updated and about map-drawing methodologies being used to mask wrongful intent.

Oliva later told reporters he didn’t believe improper intent guided the Senate’s most recent efforts, but also suggested one can never really know.

“How can you see intent? Intent is in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “What I saw was a concern to make a map more compact, more numerically superior.”

But Oliva also has explained that his South Florida districts, different from the Senate map, were taken from the proposal of the plaintiffs, who include the League of Women Voters of Florida.

“There’s tremendous complications because you cannot prove intent,” Oliva said.

“Who, in any part of this process, could be entirely free of intent?” he added. “Could the plaintiffs be free of intent? Could the (Supreme Court justices) be free of intent? Are they not politically appointed? Who is free of intent?”

The League, Common Cause and other plaintiffs filed the court challenge over the Senate districts’ constitutionality; they turned in their own map last week.

The Legislature is in the last week of a three-week Special Session to redraw the state’s 40 senatorial districts.

It settled the court challenge that its current map was gerrymandered for Republicans and incumbents by admitting fault and agreeing to redraw the lines.

State Rep. Jared Evan Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, agreed that divining an intent to gerrymander is close to impossible.

“But we can look at the outcome,” he told reporters, speaking of the map passed by the Senate last week.

That map included a late amendment by GOP state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami that critics said separated Republican incumbents in South Florida.

“The outcome was that they were taking senators that were drawn into a district drawn by staff and would have to run against each other, and they ‘fixed’ it,” Moskowitz said. “They put senators in different districts so they wouldn’t have to face each other. And they cloaked it in better data.”

Any map the Legislature eventually produces still must be approved by the Florida Supreme Court.

“What’s clear is that you could draw this map a thousand ways,” Moskowitz said. “… There’s infinite ways to draw this. Ultimately, you want to have the most fair outcome, but the arbiter of that is going to be the court.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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