Special session begins with major division between House and Senate
It took less than an hour into a new special session for the Florida House and Senate to find themselves at odds once again.
Just moments after the Legislature officially started its special session at noon, it became abundantly clear one major hurdle already exists as the chambers prepare to redraw Florida's 40 state senate seats. The two chambers, both dominated by Republicans, are split over who will have to stand for re-election in the Florida Senate in 2016. The Florida House believes that when the Legislature redraws the district lines for the state’s 40 senate seats, every member of the chamber will have to stand for re-election in 2016. That would include state senators who were elected to four year terms in 2014.
“We’ve always understood it to be everyone has to go back and run again,” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, told reporters.
Not so, says State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who is the head of the Senate’s redistricting committee. Galvano said his attorneys have told him that only Senators currently up for re-election in 2016 will have to run again, regardless of how the districts change. That would mean senators like Galvano, who was elected in 2014 to a new four year term, would not have to seek re-election in 2016 even though every single proposed redistricting map so far would have him representing thousands of people he doesn’t represent now.
“It is the legal position we are taking,” Galvano told the rest of the Florida Senate when pressed multiple times on the floor of the Senate.
The decision directly affect 14 state senators who have filed to run for re-election in 2018. Under the House's interpretation of the law, they would stand for re-election in 2016 instead. But under Galvano's view, all 14 would have re-elections remain in 2018. In the Tampa Bay region, Sens Wilton Simpson, Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes, Tom Lee and Galvano would be part of that group.
Galvano’s position appears contrary to a 1982 Florida Supreme Court ruling on the question. Back then the court declared that when a Senate district is revised by reapportionment, a senator’s term ends.
"Because the new plan alters all district lines and the constituency therein, elections must be held in all senate districts in 1982,'' the court opinion stated. "We reject the view of the League of Women voters that terms always terminate with a new apportionment plan even if district lines are unchanged."
Democrats in the Senate are already questioning if Galvano’s declaration has a political purpose because 2016 is a presidential election cycle when more Democrats typically show up at the polls.
Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Lakes, said he believes Senate leaders may want to keep certain senators from running in a presidential election year.
"What has happened is, Florida has seen when there's a larger turnout, it's a Democratic turnout,'' he said.
"This seems kind of apparent,'' that it violates the prohibition on drawing maps with the intention of benefitting incumbents, Braynon said.
The disagreement comes a month after a special session to redraw congressional districts lines ended without the House and Senate agreeing on a single map, forcing the courts to step in. And earlier this year, the Legislature had to meet in a special session after the House abruptly walked out days before the regular spring session was scheduled to end.
The Florida Legislature is taking its third shot at redrawing its Senate districts since 2011. The two other attempts have failed to meet standards set in a state constitutional amendment that bars the Legislature from drawing districts that favor incumbents of political parties.