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Lawmakers Promise Public Access in Map Drawing

florida district map

Echoing his Senate counterpart, the House redistricting chairman said Wednesday his committee will comply with state and federal standards as it redraws legislative and congressional boundaries in the once-a-decade process.

Also, House Redistricting Chairman Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, said Floridians will have a chance to be more engaged in the coming months than in any prior reapportionment process, even if time doesn’t allow public hearings across the state or online

“I think the public has more access now to useful data, to information that will actually allow them to create maps that could work,” Leek told reporters after the first meeting of his committee.

The meeting came as the House and Senate announced the launch of a joint redistricting website that will allow Floridians to craft and submit proposals for new political lines. In addition to redrawing 40 state Senate and 120 state House districts, lawmakers also will map out 28 U.S. House districts — including an additional congressional seat that Florida picked up because of its growing population.

Wednesday’s meeting mostly provided an overview of the redistricting process, which will be a major issue in the legislative session that starts Jan. 11. Maps must be finalized before qualifying for next year’s congressional and legislative races begins June 13.

Rep. Joe Geller, the ranking Democrat on the committee, pointed to close statewide elections in saying Floridians expect maps that “fairly express their political will.”

“At the end of the day, I hope we will all be able to look back and say that what we delivered was a fair result,” said Geller, D-Aventura.

Leek said lawmakers should have learned from mistakes a decade ago, the first-time new maps were put together after the 2010 voter-approved “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments, which were intended to prohibit partisan gerrymandering or maps that favored incumbents. In 2012, courts overturned initial congressional and state Senate maps for failing to meet the requirements of the Fair Districts amendments.

“The speaker and I have made it consistently and abundantly clear that the House will conduct this process in compliance with the Florida Constitution, and relevant federal and state legal standards, including relevant court precedent,” Leek said, referring to House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor..

On Monday, Senate Reapportionment Chairman Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said he wants lawmakers to avoid the “shadow process” that occurred in 2012.

The process this go-round might not include public hearings that were held across the state a decade ago, in part because of a delay in the release of necessary census data due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new website — www.FloridaRedistricting.gov — is expected to allow people to draw proposed districts down to census-block levels.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said in a statement that the process will provide “meaningful” participation for Floridians, noting “the way people communicate with everyone, including their legislators, has changed a lot in the last 10 years.”

Rodrigues said Monday people will have to submit their names and declare if they are being compensated for their map suggestions, which wasn’t the case a decade ago.

Incoming House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said Tuesday he sees his job as mediating between lawmakers and other candidates who find they’ve been drawn into the same districts. Renner is slated to become House speaker after the 2022 elections and will help run House campaigns next year.

“I won't be involved in the map-drawing process, just the hard conversations to say, ‘One of you guys has got to move or leave,’” Renner said.

Renner said there will be “a little bit more urgency once the maps get drawn to make sure we see who wants to run, who doesn't want to run, get all of our candidates in line, as the Democrats will also do.”

Jim Turner - News Service of Florida