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Florida high court to examine district lines

Florida redistricting

New legislative lines in the once-a-decade redistricting process are headed to the Florida Supreme Court, while a new congressional map remains on hold.

On a unanimous vote, the Senate last week approved a plan that sets new boundaries for the 40 Senate and 120 state House seats. But Sen. Doug Broxson, vice chair of the chamber’s Reapportionment Committee, says most of the action is downstate.

“You look at the Panhandle, there’s very little that you can do,” Broxson said. “You take 650,000 people and you try to find them; And Escambia and Santa Rosa [counties] have almost that amount. And we pick up the additional amounts in Okaloosa and North Okaloosa.”

This time around, the districts were drawn with lawmakers pretty much on the sidelines, with their staffs and attorneys carrying the ball.

“They went over the Supreme Court rulings on why they didn’t accept our maps in 2012, so we tried not to make the same mistakes; it’s one of the most sterile maps you’ll ever see,” said Broxson. “It’s based on current law, court decisions, and just plain math.”

Some are criticizing the no-lawmaker approach to redrawing the districts, claiming the process is unconstitutional.

“The constitution says the maps are supposed to be drawn by members and historically, all the maps up until 2011,” Broxson said. “Then, the courts okayed a third option from the Florida League of Women Voters. I think there was some disappointment that [legislators] weren’t allowed to express an opinion – a decision might be made differently.”

The House and Senate handled the redrawing of their respective districts themselves. Broxson feels good about their plan, but concedes that not everyone will feel that way.

“We’re expecting a good result, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t get sued,” he said. “Because even while we were in the process of talking about how to do the maps, several groups promised us that — no matter what we came out with — they’d sue us. So, I’m sure they’ll keep that promise.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody has 15 days to petition the state Supreme Court for a ruling on the validity of the redrawn legislative districts. The court will then have 30 days to issue an order, with opponents and supporters able to file briefs.

“We had a lot of problems with these maps, and that is why virtually the entire Democratic caucus voted [them] down; the information was just not given to us. Decisions were made that we weren’t even brought into or made aware of,” said Rep. Joe Geller (D-Miami), the ranking member on the House Redistricting Committee.

“[Thursday] alone, 36 times, we had questions that were unanswered; they either said the maps were the only thing you could talk about, wouldn’t even tell us who was in the room when the maps were drawn,” Geller said. “These maps, in my opinion, are probably not constitutionally compliant.”

Geller and other opponents have raised concerns that Florida’s growing minority populations haven’t been adequately addressed in the district changes.

“They totally fail to address the issue of the Creole language minority, claiming there wasn’t enough data, when in the past there has been. And there’s more information now than before. The issues of minority representation are significant.”

But, Geller quickly added, they are not the only issues.

“Whether there’s so-called ‘packing’ or ‘cracking,’ what they did, how they did it, why this information wasn’t available to us, why they would not answer our questions about the process,” said Geller. “Why they failed to bring the public into this process. My God, with Zoom technology, how hard would it have been?”

As mentioned, redistricting Florida’s U.S. House map is delayed, pending a challenge by Gov. Ron DeSantis. In a rare move for a governor, he has submitted his own proposal to reshape Florida’s congressional map, and carve up districts held by Black Democrats.