Politics

Redistricting Amendments Filed on Eve of Vote

By: Brandon Larrabee News Service of Florida | Posted: March 22, 2012 3:55 AM

A half-dozen amendments to the second draft of a Senate redistricting package were filed late Wednesday on the eve of the debate over the chamber's new maps.

The number of amendments stands in stark contrast to the debate over the first map, thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court for violating the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments approved by the voters in a November 2010 referendum.

But with the Senate barred from taking another shot at the once-a-decade redistricting process -- the Florida Supreme Court will draw the maps if the second draft is struck down -- lawmakers on all sides appeared to be angling for their last chance to shift the lines.

Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat set to lead his party after the November elections, filed a pair of amendments shifting lines in Northeast Florida, which would have the effect of creating a pair of better opportunities for Democrats than they would have under the plan proposed by Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Under Smith's plans, District 6 -- which draws the greatest share of its population from St. Johns County -- would drop its portion of Volusia County and move into Clay County. As a result, a district that would have gone for Republican Gov. Rick Scott by 17.3 points in the 2010 elections under the Gaetz plan would see Scott's edge over Democrat Alex Sink leap to 27.9 points under Smith's map.

That would allow District 7, centered around Gainesville, to go from a district that Scott won by 9.1 points to one where Sink prevailed by 0.6 points. And it would drop Scott's margin in District 8 -- dominated by Volusia County -- from 5.3 percent under the Gaetz plan to 2.1 percent.

The only difference between Smith's maps is a population shift in one of the plans in Southeast Florida, though all three districts affected would remain overwhelmingly Democratic.

An amendment filed by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, would prevent a showdown between Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and former Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Brandenton, both of whom are running for Senate. Latvala's plan would move Sebring out of District 21, which runs to the Gulf Coast, and into inland District 26.

The map would also shift Plant City from District 15, which runs along I-4 from Plant City to around SeaWorld under Gaetz's plan, to District 24, which is contained entirely within Hillsborough County.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, would continue his push for a new majority-Hispanic district in the Miami area -- the fourth such seat in Miami-Dade County. But 53.5 percent of the district's voting-age population would be nonblack Hispanics under Diaz de la Portilla's new plan -- far lower than the 66.2 percent share under his old amendment.

Diaz de la Portilla says the new district would help the map withstand a legal challenge; critics say it is an attempt to help his brother win election to the seat.

Two amendments would change the Senate numbering system proposed by Gaetz and Senate leadership, which used a raffle to determine the number of districts. District numbers would determine how long members can serve under the state's term limits.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, proposed a numbering system that would number districts in order from northwest to southeast. Sen. Ronda Storms, a Valrico Republican who angrily compared the raffle to gambling, would renumber the districts so that every incumbent would serve only the eight years allowed under the term-limits law.

Justices threw out the initial numbering system, saying it systematically allowed incumbents to take advantage of a loophole giving some senators 10 years in office.

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