TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Senate on Thursday easily passed a revised redistricting map for the Republican-dominated chamber that's designed to fix constitutional flaws. Some Democrats said it still violates new anti-gerrymandering standards.
The new map changes the boundaries of 24 districts due to the ripple effect of revising eight districts that were invalidated by the Florida Supreme Court.
It also has new numbers for all 40 districts that were selected at random, using a pair of Bingo machines loaded with white and green balls, to determine which senators elected in November would serve terms of four years and which would serve two years, to keep the terms staggered.
The justices ruled the Senate's original numbering scheme appeared designed to make sure most incumbents could serve longer than the usual eight years before being term-limited out of office. The Bingo drawing, though, still would allow term limits of nine to 11 years for 19 of 29 incumbents not being term-limited this year.
"Our districts are more compact than they were before," said Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz. "The Senate map preserves, protects and expands minority voting rights in an incumbent-neutral fashion."
Gaetz predicted the Senate likely would have more minority members and Democrats after the November election, when the Niceville Republican is in line to become the chamber's president.
The map, though, is expected to keep the GOP, which now has a 28-12 advantage, with a strong majority although Democrats have a slight edge in voter registration statewide.
Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said the new map continues to violate the Fair Districts standards that voters adopted in 2010. They include a ban on intentionally favoring incumbents and political parties.
"Incumbent protection is written all over the map," Rich said. "We have been willing to place self-interest and partisanship gain over the intent of the voters."
The original map avoided pitting any incumbents against each other. The new plan would double up two pairs of senators although Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, says he'd move to an adjacent open district to avoid facing off with Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. Also paired are Sens. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, in a district expected to lean Democratic.
A functional analysis ordered by the Supreme Court shows Democrat Alex Sink would have carried 15 districts in the 2010 gubernatorial race compared to 14 under the plan stricken by the justices. Democrat Barack Obama would have taken 16 districts under either plan in the 2008 president election.
The vote was 31-6 with five Democrats joining all Republicans in favor of the plan. It will be taken up by the House next week to close a 15-day special session. House leaders, though, say they plan to show deference to the Senate.
The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the 120-district House map while rejecting the Senate plan 5-2. The revised Senate map will go back to the justices for another review. If they still find problems they can redraw it themselves.
Florida Democratic Chairman Rod Smith said the party will again "turn to the courts to enforce the people's will." Democrats and three nonpartisan groups that backed the Fair Districts standards challenged the original House and Senate maps during the first Supreme Court review.
They also have challenges pending against the Legislature's redistricting map for Florida's 27 congressional seats in Circuit Court. A judge has set trial for April 16 in Tallahassee.
Other Fair Districts criteria include protecting minority voting rights, making districts compact and following political and geographic boundaries whenever feasible.
The revised plan splits heavily black Daytona Beach into two districts. The Senate voted down a proposal by Democrats to keep the city whole, which would have increased their chances of carrying one of those districts.
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, withdrew a proposal that would have created a fourth Hispanic district in South Florida. He said he expects that issue to be pursed in court as well.
Lakeland also objected to the original Senate map because it divided the Polk County city between two districts. The justices asked lawmakers to look at that issue.
A proposal that cleared the Reapportionment Committee on Wednesday would have kept Lakeland in a Polk-dominated single district with Plant City, which is in neighboring Hillsborough County. It also would have put two prominent Republican candidates seeking an open Senate seat, state Rep. Denise Grimsley of Sebring, and former Rep. Bill Galvano of Bradenton, in the same district.
Plant City officials objected, and the Senate agreed to put it back in a Hillsborough district while still keeping all of Lakeland in the Polk district by adopting an amendment offered by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Latvala's map also once again put Grimsley and Galvano in separate districts.
Democrats who voted for the revised map are Gwen Margolis of Coconut Grove, Bill Montford of Tallahassee, Jeremy Ring of Margate, Gary Siplin of Orlando and Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood.
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