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Senate takes Miguel Diaz de la Portilla map with South Florida changes

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The Florida Senate on Tuesday agreed to amend its proposed redrawn district map with a “sandbox” that again moves the lines in South Florida.

The plan by GOP state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla also happens to ensure he wouldn’t have to run against fellow Republican Miami-Dade incumbent Anitere Flores.

The Senate, however, put off a vote on the final map until Wednesday after a flurry of floor huddles, leading some to speculate that even that plan doesn’t yet have enough votes to get out of the chamber.

The map still is the same as the one cleared by Sen. Bill Galvano‘s Reapportionment Committee last week, save for the new lines in Miami-Dade. Senators OK’d the latest change on a voice vote.

Diaz de la Portilla, chased by reporters down a Senate hallway, denied that his map had anything to do with the ongoing and increasingly acrimonious fight between Republicans Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Joe Negron of Stuart for the term of Senate president beginning in 2017.

“This has nothing to do, from my perspective, with the Senate presidency, or anything like that,” he said. “This has to do with … making sure we don’t lose Hispanic representation in Miami-Dade County because it’s important for our community.

“I think that this map, on its face, on the merits, on the numbers, is a map that is compliant” with constitutional safeguards against gerrymandering, Diaz de la Portilla said. “It is what the people of Miami-Dade County need.”

The change to the map that will now be voted on Wednesday also keeps other districts that Democrats and others had challenged, including one that crosses Tampa Bay, a move that had been frowned upon by the Florida Supreme Court in a similar case over congressional redistricting.

“I’m not concerned with anything other than doing the best job I possibly can … for Miami-Dade County,” Diaz de la Portilla said. “What the House (of Representatives) does, what the court does, what anybody else does, is up to them. I feel very confident in what we did today.”

State Sen. Oscar Braynon II, a Miami Gardens Democrat and vice chairman of the redistricting panel, questioned why the change to the base map helps only Miami-Dade – if it actually does.

“Maybe there are cities that they think shouldn’t be together,” he told reporters. “As long as they keep the cities whole and they keep it compact. If they say Little Havana should not be with Kendall, Little Havana is in the city of Miami and Kendall is in unincorporated Miami-Dade, so they can be in two separate areas.”

When asked whether he’ll vote for Tuesday’s map, he said, “I don’t think it does enough. The Volusia thing is still an issue. The jumping the bay is still an issue.”

Last week, Latvala had bashed the committee map because it divides Alachua and Volusia counties into different districts, severs the city of Sarasota from the rest of Sarasota County, and splits Pasco County into three districts.

The Legislature reconvened in Special Session for the third time this year to fix the state Senate districts. The map was first redone after the 2010 census.

But voting-rights groups sued, claiming the districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans and incumbents. The Senate settled the suit by admitting fault and agreeing to redraw the lines.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said the map, even as now amended, is constitutionally sound.

“We took extraordinary steps to protect against any violations … so we wouldn’t have issues later,” he said, referring to the “sterile environment” in which staff drew maps free of political influence. “This isn’t the end of the process, but really the first volley, so to speak.”

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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