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Lawmakers offer a flurry of amendments to proposed congressional district map

TALLAHASSEE — After days of listening to how their staff redrew Florida's 27 Congressional districts in relative seclusion, state legislators on Wednesday started taking their own turn at re-mapping the state.

By the end of the third day of the 12-day special session on redistricting, at least eight state legislators were working on alternative redistricting plans that, in some cases, would significantly change an initial base map that lawmakers started debating on Monday. The result is that who represents millions of Floridians in Congress is far from being resolved.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, took a different approach to halt the Legislature's entire redistricting process because of how it portends to change the 5th Congressional District she has represented since 1993. Brown said she was ready to file a new lawsuit calling on the federal courts to block the Florida Supreme Court's directive to change her snaking Jacksonville-to-Orlando district because it would reduce the percentage of black residents who are of the voting age.

"Today, I filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking relief against the continued use of any congressional redistricting plan that dilutes the voting strength of African Americans," Brown said in a statement to the media.

It was the Florida Supreme Court earlier this summer that ordered the Florida Legislature to meet in a special session to fix the state's congressional districts. They ruled that the Legislature's previous redistricting process was "tainted" and eight of the state's districts violated constitutional mandates against favoring incumbents or political parties.

Proposed amendments to the Legislature's base map make clear where the primary battle fronts will be over the course of the next two weeks. Hillsborough, Sarasota, Palm Beach and Leon counties were all key topics on Wednesday as legislators raced to prepare new maps in time to be considered during day long committee hearings planned on Thursday and Friday.

"As long as there is a real justification for what they are proposing, any amendments will be seriously and legitimately considered," said Sen. Bill Galvano, the chairman of the Senate's redistricting committee.

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said his proposed amendment would stop Hillsborough County from being diced up into four congressional districts, but with only one represented by a Hillsborough resident. Lee said his plan to bring more of eastern Hillsborough county into one district so Hillsborough has a better shot at electing two members to Congress.

Another amendment by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, would put most of Hillsborough County south of the Alafia River into a the 17th Congressional District, held now by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee. That would help keep all of Sarasota County's 380,000 people contained in its present 16th Congressional District, represented by Vern Buchanan., R-Sarasota. Legislative staff had proposed Rooney's district including part of southern Sarasota County, with Buchanan's territory picking up southern Hillsborough.

"We're giving it our best try to put Sarasota County back together," Detert said.

It's a similar goal in Leon County, where Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, was working on a proposal to keep Leon County together in a single Congressional district, instead of splitting it as the legislative staff had proposed.

An opposite directive came out of from Palm Beach County. State Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, wants to keep the coastline represented in the 22nd Congressional District by Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, instead of putting most of that territory into a more inland district held by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton.

Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy Wallace at jwallace@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.

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