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Session collapse leaves maligned court to decide fate of Legislature's maps

After the legislative session collapsed Friday with the House and Senate unable to agree on a way to repair the congressional map the court ruled invalid, leaders of both chambers conceded that court will not only be their referee, it will likely make the decision.

This is the same Legislature whose Republican leaders fundamentally disagree with the court ruling that found they violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution by passing approved a GOP-leaning map in 2012 that was designed to favor incumbents and political parties. They have spent much of the 10-day session blasting the court for "overreaching."

With less than 30 minutes left in the two-week redistricting session, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, warned legislators that if the Senate rejected the House congressional map, they were, by default, leaving it up to the courts to decide.

The next step, he said, is "the House counsel will have an opportunity to explain why we feel is indeed the best map to put forward. The Senate counsel will have that same opportunity and the courts will have a decision to make of whether or not they want to redraw the map, take the plaintiffs map or take one of the maps produced here in the Florida House or Florida Senate."

In essence: the House lawyers will make the case for the House map. The Senate lawyers will argue for the Senate map and the plaintiffs -- the League of Women Voters and Common Cause -- can offer up their own map. Or, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis can design a map himself.

"Of course, the court was anticipating we would have a singular legislative product and the plaintiffs would have an opportunity to discuss it,'' said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee. But, he added, Lewis' order scheduling does not prevent "the opportunity that involves attorneys representing the separate chambers." Download Lewis scheduling order

Lewis had scheduled a hearing next Tuesday to review the schedule for the court's review of what he assumed would be a jointly-approved map. He had tentatively set deadlines for the lawyers to conduct their discovery and interview their witnesses with a hearing set for Sept. 24-28. Lewis must have a recommendation about the congressional map to the Florida Supreme Court by Oct. 17.

Instead, the House and Senate will have to file notice by Tuesday that they have failed to agree to a final map and perhaps submit their individual maps instead.

The prospect of a court-drawn map worried Rep. Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes.

"I do not want the court to draw the map as they did in 1992,'' she said, referring to the federal court's decision to draw Florida's congressional map after repeated attempts by then Democrat-led Legislature to draw a map that complied with the federal Voting Rights Act.

The final 1992 map drew three African-American majority seats for the first time in Florida, and created the first iteration of Congressional District 5, the multi-county minority-majority seat held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, that sliced through Democratic strongholds in North and Central Florida to concentrate enough voters together to elect a black to Congress. Brown, a state senator in 1992, has held the seat since then.

The Florida Supreme Court has now ordered that the district must run east and west because by using it to slice communities, it violates the anti-incumbency protection provisions of the Fair Districts provisions of the Florida Constitution.