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Weekly Roundup: Looking for a Direction

August 28, 2015 - 7:45pm

The leaders of Florida spent the week looking for directions, and maps didn't turn out to be much help.

In the case of the state's ongoing congressional redistricting saga, lawmakers and a Leon County judge were looking for directions from the Florida Supreme Court --- and there was no map to follow, because there is no congressional map at all. There also appears to be no roadmap for how to extract the state from the increasingly intricate web of lawsuits, special sessions and political battles sparked by the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" standards.

Meanwhile, Floridians were keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Erika, though in that case the directions and the map kept changing. At one point, the looming storm was going to plow into the eastern part of the state. Then, it was going to strike just a glancing blow to the east coast. And finally, it looked like it would bear down on the southwestern corner of Florida before moving northward across the state.

By the end of the week, it appeared that the threat to people from Erika was still severe, but less so than it seemed days earlier. But bears might still need an evacuation route, as a controversial hunt for the animals looked more and more ominous. At least, for bears.


The House-Senate standoff on congressional redistricting that ended a special session aimed at resolving the issue showed no signs of dying down by the end of the week, and Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis decided he wasn't going to try to work through the thicket himself.

Instead, Lewis told the two sides at a hearing, he would ask the Florida Supreme Court what to do about it.

"I just don't feel that I have any authority to do anything other than to report the situation," Lewis said.

It was, after all, the Supreme Court that struck down eight of Florida's 27 congressional districts in July, arguing that they violated the Fair Districts amendments that voters approved in 2010. That led to a special session of the Legislature that collapsed in acrimony between the two chambers, and the unusual position Lewis found himself in.

While they couldn't agree on the reasons for it, both the House and the Senate support Lewis choosing between competing plans from the Legislature, the voting-rights groups that initially challenged the lines or perhaps a map that Lewis himself would craft. But the voting-rights organization called for the Supreme Court to step in.

Lawyers for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause Florida said the 2016 congressional elections are coming up quickly, and the justices should go ahead and take over the case amid the squabbling.

"Faced with the Legislature's disregard of its mandate, this court should promptly adopt a remedial plan," the filing said.

Looking to avoid that, the Senate tried to come up with a compromise this week between its own map and the "base map" drawn by legislative aides and favored by the House.

Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano released a new draft of congressional lines that largely abandoned the upper chamber's earlier drive to consolidate eastern Hillsborough County into one district.

The map would put Sarasota County in one district --- another goal of the Senate --- by splitting it off from Manatee County, which would be pushed into a district with parts of Hillsborough County. As a result, Hillsborough would comprise a greater share of District 16 than it would under a plan supported by the House, potentially representing at least a partial victory for Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who had pushed for the county's eastern side to be consolidated.

But in the process, a largely rural congressional district in the center of the state, currently represented by Republican Congressman Tom Rooney, would be "pulled apart at the seams," Rooney said. Meanwhile, the incumbent's home town of Okeechobee would shift into a reliably Democratic district that stretches northward to Orange County.

"It is my hope that this map is something that my … fellow legislators, in both chambers, can support as a compromise, and that we can fulfill our obligation to adopt a congressional reapportionment plan," wrote Galvano, R-Bradenton, in a memo to senators.

On Friday, the House essentially said thanks, but no thanks.

"It is unfortunate that the Senate did not accept the House's concerns during the special session; if the Senate had offered an amendment like the map filed by Chairman Galvano (Thursday) afternoon, that map would have been given serious consideration," wrote House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes.

Undeterred, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, sent a letter to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, asking for a meeting that would also include Oliva and Galvano. But there were few signs of that, and by the close of business on Friday, the Supreme Court hadn't broken its silence.


There might be a mismatch this October in the wilds of Florida. After all, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be asked next week to set a quota of 320 bears for a controversial hunt in October.

But the possibility of a hunt, the first in the state in more than 20 years, has already attracted 1,795 hunters who have purchased permits, according to the commission.

The hunt is intended to help the state achieve a 20 percent reduction in the bear population in each region. The 20 percent figure includes the number of bears that die naturally, are hit and killed by cars, and are captured and killed by wildlife officers due to conflicts.

One of the people making the decision will be relatively new to the commission. Gov. Rick Scott named the president of a Key West real-estate development company to the panel, replacing the former chairman who announced last week he is stepping down after 12 years on the board.

The appointment late Friday of Robert Spottswood by Scott came three days after Richard Corbett, whose term on the board was scheduled to expire in January 2018, submitted his resignation to Scott.

Corbett, a Tampa resident who has been on the commission since February 2003 and was named chairman in June 2013, didn't state a reason for his decision in a letter to Scott, instead praising staff and the governor's approach to conservation.

"I am confident you will continue this positive trend and select a candidate that will carry forward the energy and enthusiasm for Florida's fish and wildlife resources, while being mindful of the strong relationship between the stewardship of these resources and their importance to our economy and quality of life in Florida," wrote Corbett.

Scott expressed confidence in Spottswood, who created Spottswood Cos.

"As a sixth generation Floridian from the Keys, I know Robert cares deeply about our beautiful state and preserving Florida as the fishing capital of the world," Scott said in the release.

This is the third time that Spottswood has received an appointment from Scott, following a seat on the governor's Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding and a spot on the 3rd District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission.

Spottswood donated $10,000 on Sept. 30, 2013, to "Let's Get to Work," a political organization that has played a key role backing Scott.


Late this week, Floridians were eying Erika and trying to figure out where she would make landfall and how strong she would be at the time. Forecasts of the state's first direct hit from a hurricane in a decade appeared to be dying down, with Erika more likely to be a tropical storm or a depression during her time in Florida.

Still, Gov. Rick Scott on Friday declared a state of emergency for the entire state. The executive order pointed to updated forecasts from the National Hurricane Center indicating the storm likely will "travel up the spine of Florida's peninsula."

The declaration has a number of effects, such as triggering arrangements in which Florida can seek assistance from other states and the federal government. Also, Scott ordered Adjutant Gen. Michael Calhoun to activate the Florida National Guard for the duration of the emergency.

The governor and other state officials urged Floridians on Thursday to begin preparing for a major storm.

"A lot of times it's not the storm that causes the problem,'' Scott said."It's the aftermath, because as individuals we didn't get prepared. So, each of us has to take the responsibility to get prepared."

STORY OF THE WEEK: The House and Senate standoff over congressional redistricting spilled over into the courts after a special session on the issue collapsed last week.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "The soft scent of mentholated dry mango swirls around the tongue, punctuated by the flavor of overripe peaches. Exhaling Harlequin produces a dense fog of sweet incense, with a soothing, soft and spicy sandalwood scent." --- An explanation of a product from Winter Garden-based Razbuton, which is seeking to become one of the fortunate five granted "dispensing organization" licenses to grow, process and distribute non-euphoric medicinal marijuana authorized by Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature last year. Smoking of the low-THC products is prohibited by the Florida law.





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