TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A divided Florida Senate is expected to vote this week on a new map for 40 state Senate districts, but it’s not clear if there will be enough votes to actually pass the proposal.
Florida legislators last week started a 19-day session designed to come up with a new map that would pass muster with the courts. But the jousting over the new map, which has been caused by everything from Senate presidential politics to predictions of legal challenges, continues to cloud the ultimate outcome.
The Senate gave tentative approval to a new map on Tuesday, but only after a Republican state senator from Miami-Dade changed the proposal at the last minute to shift the lines in his home county.
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla said he was doing it to boost the chances that Miami-Dade will continue to have three Hispanic state senators. He insisted that the change was needed even though the initial Senate map included three Miami-Dade districts with a majority of Hispanic voters. He also said his proposal would keep the well-known Cuban community of Little Havana intact.
“It’s important for the community I represent in Miami-Dade County to have Hispanic representation,” Diaz de la Portilla said.
But several Senate Democrats said the new map is now unconstitutional. Sen. Jeff Clemens asserted that Diaz de la Portilla made changes to make sure that he was no longer in a Senate district that contains two other incumbent state senators.
“You can’t draw a map with an intent to benefit a political incumbent,” said Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat. “Everybody knows this is trying to benefit a political incumbent.”
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 requiring compact political districts that don’t benefit parties or incumbents. A coalition of groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, filed a lawsuit that contended the existing state senate districts violated those standards.
The Senate this summer admitted in court filings that it violated the constitution when it drew up the districts in 2012 and agreed to settle the case shortly before it was scheduled to go to trial.
The final map adopted by the Legislature could have a far-reaching impact. It could change the current 26-14 split between Republicans and Democrats and could impact an ongoing contest over the Senate presidency. That’s because the senators pledged to one of the 2 GOP contenders may have trouble winning new terms in 2016.
Even if there are 21 votes for the new map it’s not clear if House Republicans will go along with the proposal. GOP leaders in the House have been skeptical of legislators altering map proposals that were initially drawn up by legislative staff and attorneys.