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Hillsborough County at center of new divide over redistricting

All of eastern Hillsborough County would be put into one Congressional district, rather than being split into three different districts as it is now, under a new redistricting plan that cleared a Florida Senate committee on Monday. But the plan still faces an uncertain future in the Florida House.

Under the plan proposed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, almost all of Hillsborough County east of Interstate 75 would be in the 15th Congressional district, which is now represented by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. That would put 520,000 Hillsborough County residents in the 15th District. Hillsborough's population would make up more than 75 percent of the new 15th District. Lee said over the years he has grown tired of Hillsborough residents being a "donor county" to other congressional districts, with portions of Hillsborough added to other congressional districts to balance out populations. Currently Sun City Center is represented by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, who lives hundreds of miles east in Okeechobee County.

Lee's plan also puts all of Tampa into the 14th Congressional District, represented now by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. The configuration means Hillsborough County has a much better chance at electing two residents to Congress.

The new map, adopted in a committee hearing on Monday, would also put all of Sarasota County back into one congressional district. A base map proposal released earlier this month would have split it into two, with the northern half of that county combined into the 16th District with southern Hillsborough. The 16th is now represented by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.

Lee's plan now goes to the full Senate on Wednesday, with a final vote expected by Thursday.

It was the only change adopted by the Senate's redistricting plan. Proposed amendments to the 5th Congressional District in north Florida, now represented by Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, were pulled from consideration after both appeared poised to be defeated.

What was changed by the Senate puts the body at odds with the House. The full Florida House voted on Monday to support the original map that keeps eastern Hillsborough and Sarasota counties split. Both chambers have to agree to the same plan in order for it to become law.

If the full Senate adopts the Senate redistricting committee map passed on Monday, it would go to the full House. If the House doesn't agree to the new map, the two chambers will have to meet to hammer out a compromise. Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said if there are differences still, he thinks they could be hammered out by him meeting with the chairman of the House redistricting, Rep. Jose Oliva.