House approves redistricting maps; process now moves to Senate, then courts

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New districts for the House, Senate and the Florida congressional delegation passed the House on party-line votes Friday, all but clearing the way for looming legal battles over whether the plans follow state anti-gerrymandering standards and federal civil rights laws, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

The maps for the Legislature (SJR 1176) and Congress (SB 1174) were approved on twin 80-37 votes, sending them to the Senate for final vote that is expected to be a formality.

After that, the legislative plan will head to the Florida Supreme Court for its approval while the congressional proposal goes to Gov. Rick Scott. One or both maps are likely to face challenges under either state or federal laws.

Senate leaders have indicated they hope to take up the maps and approve the changes as soon as Tuesday.

In the meantime, Democrats hammered away at the maps as partisan measures that defied the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts standards, approved by Florida voters in a referendum last year.

“We can do better than this,” said Rep. Perry Thurston, a Plantation Democrat who served as his party’s lead on redistricting. “The people of the state of Florida deserve better than this.”

Republicans countered that the Democrats were trying to bolster the inevitable legal challenges while ignoring that the maps took scrupulous trouble to follow the new standards. The GOP pointed repeatedly to media reports indicating that 38 incumbents would be forced into districts with each other.

“If you’re voting no simply because an attorney who is not a part of this process and a part of this chamber is telling you to vote no, that’s wrong,” said House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

For the most part, though, attention was already turning to the court battles shaping up over whether the maps follow the Fair Districts amendments. Democrats predicted that the Legislature would be forced to take another stab at drawing maps after those reviews.

“We have no doubt that the Florida courts will ultimately step in to protect the constitutional rights of every Floridian and throw out these maps,” said Florida Democratic Party executive director Scott Arceneaux.

Already, Democrats were signaling the contours of the legal challenges the maps would face.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.