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House panel okays congressional district maps without moving any lines

Members of the Florida House's redistricting panel on Thursday approved a new congressional district map without making any changes.

The 9-4 vote came after three hours of testimony and consideration of alternatives to change how lines are drawn around Leon and Palm Beach counties. As committee members explained their votes, they reiterated the same themes that have taken center stage among Republicans and Democrats during this special session.

Republican members cited reluctance to support this map -- the third version of congressional lines drawn since the 2010 census -- but expressed a feeling that their hands had been tied by the Supreme Court.

"I believe at my core that the Florida Supreme Court has grossly overstepped its boundaries and has violated the Florida Constitution," House Republican Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, said before voting for the map. "The Florida Supreme Court is forcing us, the Legislature, to decide between potentially violating them, the Florida Constitution, or potentially violating the U.S. Constitutiton."

Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, said he didn't want to support the map but felt that if the Legislature didn't move quickly, it could cause problems for the 2016 congressional elections, which he said are "very important."

Democrats, meanwhile, said the maps thrown out by justices were unconstitutional and drawn with partisan intent. Still, many of them voted against new maps drawn by House staff for a variety of reasons: because they remain partisan or don't account for communities of minority voters to be well represented or didn't involve public forums across the state.

"The role of the judicial branch is to do exactly what the Florida Supreme Court did...they determined that we violated the Constitution," said Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville. "Who here can say with a straight face that those last maps weren't partisan-based?"

Still, Fullwood voted against the map and suggested lawmakers go back to the drawing board to create a different map from the one the Legislature already passed or the changes ordered by the Supreme Court.