Sunday, August 19, 2018
Business

Supreme Court tosses proposed Senate maps

TALLAHASSEE

In a historic ruling that could shape state politics for decades, the Florida Supreme Court on Friday tossed out the proposed state Senate legislative map, forcing lawmakers to start over in a special session next week.

In the detailed 234-page majority opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente, the court voted 7-0 to validate the House's redistricting proposal, but rejected the Senate map, 5-2, for failing to follow new standards approved by voters in 2010.

Late Friday, Gov. Rick Scott called a special session devoted exclusively to redistricting starting Wednesday at 1 p.m. The Legislature will have 14 days to redraw maps and return them to the court, leaving in limbo the Senate's 40 district boundaries.

The court singled out eight Senate districts as invalid, including the districts of incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Republican Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and incoming Democratic leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale. It concluded the districts were designed to protect incumbents and were in violation of the new anti-gerrymandering directive of voters.

A Times/Herald analysis found the House map pitted 38 incumbents against each other, while the Senate protected districts of incumbents hoping to return.

The Legislature's maps had been challenged by the Florida Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida. They argued the Senate maps were drawn with the intent to protect Republican majorities in the House and Senate and unfairly pack minorities into districts on the pretense of protecting minority voting strength.

Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said the Senate anticipated the court's ruling.

"Our plan is to probably try to come back sometime next week, start working on it in committee, and try to get as much done as we can,'' he said.

Each chamber drew its own map as part of a handshake agreement between the House and Senate. House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford said he will leave it up to the Senate to fix its map when both chambers return to Tallahassee.

Within hours of the ruling, the inevitable dominoes of a redrawn map began to fall. Former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, filed to run in the district now held by Miami Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis, whose district is already dominated by Hispanic voters.

The court commended the House for drawing visually and geographically compact districts as well as preserving the ability of minorities to elect legislators of their choosing.

But it said the Senate map "is rife with objective indicators of improper intent which, when considered in isolation do not amount to improper intent, but when viewed cumulatively demonstrate a clear pattern."

In his concurring opinion, Justice Charles E.C. Perry blasted the Senate for the sprawling, noncompact minority districts drawn under the pretense of protecting minority rights.

"I cannot agree that there was a rational basis for the Senate to decide to turn a blind eye to population data when drawing their plan,'' Perry wrote. "By refusing any attempt to draw more compact districts, while maintaining the required racial proportions, there is at least the appearance that the Senate thumbed its nose at the will of the people."

The new rules establish landmark standards that legislators must follow when they embark on the once-a-decade redistricting process. They prohibit lawmakers from intentionally protecting incumbents and political parties; require them to preserve minority voting rights; and, order them to draw compact districts where possible.

But the court not only rejected the Senate map, it also shot holes in the arguments of the Legislature's lawyers as well as Attorney General Pam Bondi. They said the court should limit its review and let the details be fought over in the lower courts.

The court concluded it "would be an abdication of this court's responsibility under the Florida Constitution" to fail to conduct a thorough review. It also warned that waiting for the lower courts could "create uncertainty for voters" and candidates who must qualify to run for their seats during the week of June 4.

The new Fair Districts standards didn't offer the court any guidance as to how to define those concepts, and the court was clearly divided over how far it should go into settling the factual disputes over those elements.

Chief Justice Charles Canady agreed with Bondi and the Legislature's lawyers in a strongly worded dissenting opinion that accused the majority of abrogating the court's precedent of conducting a limited review of redistricting maps and leaving fact-based claims to be sorted out in the trial courts.

"Based on nothing more than suspicion and surmise, the majority concludes that certain district lines were drawn with improper intent — when there is an evident, rational, permissible basis for the drawing of those lines,'' Canady wrote, with Justice Ricky Polston concurring.

But Pariente, who was joined by Justices Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga, Fred Lewis and Charles Perry said the new Fair Districts amendments imposed upon the court "a weighty obligation" to measure the Legislature's actions "with a very specific constitutional yardstick."

The court also rejected the argument used by House and Senate leaders that the new constitutional standards required the state to adhere to virtually the same minority districts as before.

The court also concluded that the Senate's decision to renumber districts, giving some members longer terms than others under term limits, was an attempt to improperly manipulate numbers and "was intended to favor incumbents."

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Comments
Dear Penny: How can I tell my boss to stop making fun of my old car?

Dear Penny: How can I tell my boss to stop making fun of my old car?

Dear Penny,I’m a recent college grad who’s been working an entry-level job for the past year. I only make about $33,000 a year, but I’m doing OK. I’m able to pay my bills without taking on more debt. One of the reasons I’m able to do so is that I dri...
Published: 08/17/18
Updated: 08/19/18
Pinellas commission candidate faced stalking, abuse claims

Pinellas commission candidate faced stalking, abuse claims

ST. PETERSBURG — A political newcomer seeking a Pinellas County Commission seat has faced accusations of physical abuse and stalking from her former fiance, who twice sought court-ordered protection from her.Both allegations came after Democrat Amy K...
Published: 08/17/18
Tampa Bay’s seventh renovated Winn-Dixie opens in Hernando County

Tampa Bay’s seventh renovated Winn-Dixie opens in Hernando County

SPRING HILL — The latest Winn-Dixie remodel opened in Hernando County on Thursday.This marks the seventh remodeled Winn-Dixie parent company Southeastern Grocers has unveiled in Tampa Bay this year. The chain promised renovations following emerging f...
Published: 08/17/18
St. Petersburg ranks No. 39 in U.S. for affordable living, study says

St. Petersburg ranks No. 39 in U.S. for affordable living, study says

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg is beating the national averages on affordable homeownership, according to a SmartAsset study.The financial technology company ranked 115 of the biggest cities in the U.S., measured by mortgage payments, property taxes...
Published: 08/17/18

Florida unemployment falls to 3.7 percent

Florida’s unemployment rate hit an 11-year low in July. The jobless rate inched down a notch to 3.7 percent, according to state figures released Friday, continuing the state’s 10-month run of a sub-4 percent unemployment rate. "This is one of the big...
Published: 08/17/18
Welfont, KnowBe4, Teami and other Tampa Bay companies rank high in Inc. 5000 list

Welfont, KnowBe4, Teami and other Tampa Bay companies rank high in Inc. 5000 list

While a Wisconsin company that makes software to execute shipments and a trendy cellphone grip company out of Colorado may have taken the top spots in this year’s Inc. 5000 list — Florida still had an impressive showing. Every year, Inc. ranks the 5...
Published: 08/17/18
Wages remain stagnant in Florida despite super low unemployment. What’s going on?

Wages remain stagnant in Florida despite super low unemployment. What’s going on?

It remains our biggest economic enigma: Sluggish wage growth despite low unemployment. In a robust job market, pay rises as the supply of available workers shrinks. At least that’s the way it normally works. This time around, the ingredients appear ...
Published: 08/17/18
Children who lived with smokers are more likely to die of lung disease as adults, study says

Children who lived with smokers are more likely to die of lung disease as adults, study says

Childhood exposure to secondhand smoke is linked to lung disease decades later, according to a study published Thursday by the American Cancer Society.For 22 years, researchers have been following more than 70,000 adults who have never smoked. At the...
Published: 08/17/18
What would it take to overthrow king Publix? Safeway’s Florida exit begs the question.

What would it take to overthrow king Publix? Safeway’s Florida exit begs the question.

LARGO — Everything is on clearance inside Tampa Bay’s only Safeway grocery store. Patio furniture, 40 percent off. Beach chairs, too. Most grocery items are 30 percent off; the entire liquor store is 20 percent off.The discounts will probably get ste...
Published: 08/17/18
Trump asks SEC to look into ditching quarterly filings

Trump asks SEC to look into ditching quarterly filings

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump says he’s asking federal regulators to look into the effectiveness of the quarterly financial reports that publicly traded companies are required to file. In a tweet early Friday, Trump said that after speaking with ...
Published: 08/17/18