House on cusp of passing Senate map; opponents may be only ten votes from voting it down

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The Legislature’s second shot at drawing new districts for the state Senate is on the cusp of passing the House as early as Tuesday, setting up the next stage in the once-a-decade process of crafting Florida’s political boundaries.

However, a senior staffer told me that the House is only ten votes away from voting down the Senate map.

Republican and Democratic leaders said Monday that they would likely go ahead and vote on the new Senate map on Tuesday, finishing up an extraordinary session called to address a Florida Supreme Court ruling nullifying the plan. This marks the first year justices reviewed the plans under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments, approved by the voters in a November 2010 referendum.

The House, which saw its map initially approved by the court, is expected to defer to the Senate and give the plan the go ahead, at which point the Supreme Court will again review the Senate proposal.

In a likely preview of the floor fight, the plan (SJR 2-B) passed the House Redistricting Committee on a party-line, 13-7 vote Monday. Republicans hailed the plan as a better attempt at following the Fair Districts plan than the upper chamber’s last effort.

“The Senate responded to what the court asked and it’s time to send this map on to the court,” said Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne.

Democrats were less impressed, saying that the Senate map still seemed to be aimed at protecting incumbents while pretending to comply with the new standards. They pointed out that only two incumbents appeared to be headed for a primary challenge under the Senate plan.

“While it is better, I’m not quite sure if it gets us over the hump at the Supreme Court,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach.

Jenne offered his own plan, then withdrew it before a committee vote but promised to bring it back when the measure hits the House floor. That proposal would apparently give the GOP a smaller edge in the upper chamber; Gov. Rick Scott would have carried 22 of the 40 Senate districts in 2010 under Jenne’s proposal to the 18 won by Democratic CFO Alex Sink, though she would have carried one of the seats by less than 1 percent.

Scott would have won 25 districts to Sink’s 15 under the Senate proposal.

Even Jenne admitted that his plan, drawn with the help of Tallahassee Community College student Ryan Terrell, had little chance of passing the House and was aimed more at showing the Supreme Court another alternative, should justices choose to scrap the second Senate map and draw their own.

“If Republican members were allowed to vote the way they want to vote, I think the Jenne amendment would have an excellent chance of passing,” said House Minority Leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West.

All sides agree that the House is likely to do little more than approve the Senate plan, barring any unforeseen problems. Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said some members of his county’s delegation were likely to raise concerns about the lack of a fourth district in Miami-Dade likely to elect a Hispanic senator.

But he also tamped down expectations that the concerns raised by members like House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, would lead to an amendment that could break the “gentlemen’s agreement” between the two chambers.

House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he was also working to ease the concerns of lawmakers with problems about the map — including Lopez-Cantera.

“Whenever you’re drawing maps, there’s always going to be concern,” he said. “Nobody ever gets what they want and that’s kind of part of the process.”

Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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.