By Gray Rohrer, Orlando Sentinel (TNS)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers adjourned their special session Friday without drawing new congressional districts, a breakdown between the Republican-led House and Senate that likely will leave the task to the courts.
Democrats immediately slammed GOP leaders for the dysfunction and costs, including the $8.1 million in legal fees spent defending the original congressional maps thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court.
Democratic Rep. Janet Cruz estimated the cost of the session at $2 million. “When are we going to stop wasting taxpayer money?” Cruz asked.
According to state officials, special sessions have averaged a cost of $156,411 during the past 14 years, but most of those were only for a few days. The final cost of the latest two-week session hasn’t been tabulated.
Lawmakers already held a three-week special session in June to resolve a budget dispute between the House and Senate. They will head to Tallahassee again in October for an extra three-week session to redraw state Senate districts.
On Friday, GOP House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the Senate’s district plan would not be approved by the courts.
“It is without malice toward the Florida Senate that I say I believe their map was flawed,” Crisafulli said.
Although lawmakers have until Tuesday to draw new maps, the meltdown means the courts will likely be forced to draw the 27 districts. Florida Gov. Rick Scott could step in, but a spokeswoman said he would not call lawmakers back into special session to try to force a compromise.
Things deteriorated Friday as each chamber refused to accede to the other’s plan. The dispute culminated in Sen. Bill Galvano, a Republican and lead Senate redistricting negotiator, abruptly walking out of a joint meeting with his House counterpart, GOP Rep. Jose Oliva, before it was adjourned, a serious breach of protocol.
“I think that that probably speaks to the nature that this has taken,” Oliva said after Galvano walked away frustrated because Oliva repeatedly rejected his pleas to begin formal negotiations to resolve their differences.
Galvano was upset at Oliva’s assertion that the Senate’s redistricting plan would be seen by the courts as favoring GOP Sen. Tom Lee.
Lee amended a map drawn by legislative staffers earlier in the week that would keep his area of eastern Hillsborough County within District 15. In the base map preferred by the House, that district stretched into southern Lake County.
“We’re not going to not do an amendment because a member is from a certain region,” Galvano said.
The special session was called by Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner, a Republican, after the state Supreme Court threw out the previous maps in July. The court ruled GOP operatives used members of the public as proxies to submit maps favoring the Republican Party, in violation of the Fair Districts amendments approved by voters.
Central Florida’s voters were at the heart of the dispute between the chambers. In the House’s map, District 10 is kept entirely within western Orange County, but in the Senate version it is pushed into Lake County, giving up Latino voters in Orange County to District 9.
Latino lawmakers in Central Florida — Republicans and Democrats alike — favored the Senate plan because it kept more Hispanic voters in District 9, creating a larger voting bloc for Hispanics.
Even if state courts draw the congressional districts, federal courts could have the final say.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Florida) is suing to stop her District 5 seat, which snakes down from Jacksonville into Orlando, from being redrawn to a Tallahassee-to-Jacksonville district. The Florida Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to redraw the district from east to west instead of north to south.
Democrats, far in the minority in both chambers, took the opportunity to criticize the leadership, especially given the Legislature’s inability to pass a budget in the regular session.
“Don’t forget we were here last month, not for the maps but because of their ineptitude. I mean, it’s the summer of ineptitude at this point,” said Democratic Rep. Evan Jenne, who has filed a bill to set up an independent commission to draw new districts.
Photo: Florida State Capitol, Matt Spence via Flickr