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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate wants redistricting maps by Nov. 1, committee vote Dec. 5



Sen. Don Gaetz opened the Thursday meeting of the Senate Redistricting Committee with an olive branch -- he recognized Democratic Majority Leader Nan Rich for the national award she received from National Council of Jewish Women in New York in June.

The two had sparred publicly after Rich criticized Gaetz of misrepresenting her complaint that the redistricting 10 years ago as "cloaked in secrecy and maps were drawn in back rooms out of sight of the public and the minority party.''

Gaetz laid the timeline for receiving public maps, saying that all maps must be submitted by Nov. 1 -- the same deadline set by the House committee. Unlike the House, however, senators will have to submit their maps by the same date. (The House has given its members 14 more days.)

Maps should take into account county and city boundaries first, then rely on the voting district boundaries as set by supervisors of elections, Gaetz said. The committee established the format all maps must follow and set its next meeting Oct. 5 at 1 p.m. "That will be a very meaty discussion,'' Gaetz said, as they review maps submitted for Northwest Florida.

The committee will vote on its redistricting and congressional maps on Dec. 5, then conduct a teleconference with local groups to seek public input during a marathon session one day in December.

In a dramatic shift from the approach the Senate took at the end of the regular session this year, in which they passed dozens of so-call budget conforming bills that contained laws that had never been reviewed or voted on individually, Gaetz announced that with redistricting bills "there will be no surprises."

He said that includes "no gotchas" and no late amendments that shift the game. All amendments must be presented five days before the vote and any that fail that, Gaetz said, he will vote against.

"There's not going to be a magical plan sprung fully grown from the brow of Zeus,'' said Gaetz, the Niceville Republican who is scheduled to be the Senate's next president. He  said that the plans will derive from the public plans and said that he and House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford have sent a letter to civil rights groups urging them to submit their plans now.

Committee Staff Director John Guthrie said the Senate's open source District Builder system allows for anyone to get "neighborhood level detail" for every proposal suggested -- a more transparent process than is offered anywhere else in the country, he said.

Gaetz warned senators: "If you don't know what the proposed committee bill is and how it affects your district, it won't be our fault."

[Last modified: Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:17am]


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