By DOTTY NIST
Both the Florida Senate and House of Representatives have proposed plans for the redrawing of the state’s political boundaries.
The map proposals were prompted by the Florida Constitution’s mandate for the redistricting of the state every 10 years in order to equalize population numbers in U.S. Congressional, state Senate, and state House districts.
Legislators have agreed that the Senate will cede to the House on proposals for House redistricting and that the House will cede to the Senate on proposals for the redistricting of the Senate. The two chambers of the Legislature are to work together to resolve their differences on proposals for Congressional redistricting. The U.S. Senate is not involved in the redistricting process because representation in that body is not determined by population.
In addition to previously-existing state and federal redistricting requirements, for the first time guidance over the redistricting process was exerted by new measures, Amendments 5 and 6, which were approved by Florida voters in November 2010. These have been referred to as the “Fair District” amendments.
Amendment 5 directed that, for legislative districts, “districts may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.” Amendment 6 sets the same standards for Congressional redistricting.
In summer 2011, before starting the redrawing of the districts, state legislators held 26 public meetings in various areas of Florida to gather public input for the process. Since that time citizens have proposed redistricting maps and have provided additional input online, by mail, and in person to the legislature’s redistricting committees.
Redistricting plans for the Florida Senate and U.S. Congressional districts developed by the Florida Senate’s Reapportionment Committee were made available to the public on Nov. 28. Senator Don Gaetz (R-Niceville), Senate president-designate and Reapportionment Committee chairman, explained that, in the development of the maps, legislators had drawn upon the testimony of hundreds of Floridians who had urged, “Keep our community together.” “Wherever we could, we heeded what people living in communities and neighborhoods told us made sense to them,” Gaetz explained. On Dec. 6, the committee approved the introduction of the plans to the full Senate.
On Dec. 6, the Florida House of Representatives published seven plan options for congressional redistricting and five options for Florida House redistricting which had been produced by the House Redistricting Committee.
Representative Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, stated his confidence that the proposed plan options complied with the law and with Amendments 5 and 6.
“I believe that these options demonstrate a commitment to the basic notion of not doing the redistricing process the way it has been done in the past,” Weatherford commented.
All House of Representatives plans are to be workshopped in detail by House subcommittees.
The redistricting plans are being written up as bills capable of being considered for passage in the Legislature.
Currently, Walton County is divided into north-of-the-bay and south-of-the-bay areas for representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, with the north county area being included with District 1. This is currently the district of U.S. Representative Jeff Miller (R-Chumuckla). The south-of-the-bay area is part of District 2 of the U.S. House of Representatives, currently held by Steve Southerland (R-Panama City).
That split representation would be eliminated in the 2012 plan proposed by the Florida Senate, in which all of Walton County, north and south, would be included in District 1, with District 2 beginning to the east of Walton County with Bay and Washington counties.
The Florida House of Representatives proposals for Congressional districts also provide for representation of all of Walton County in District 1.
Walton County is now represented in the Florida Senate as two districts, Districts 2 and 4. District 2, currently held by Senator Greg Evers (R-Baker), encompasses non-coastal portions of Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Escambia counties, along with all of Holmes and Washington counties.
District 4, currently represented by Senator Don Gaetz, stretches along the coastlines of Walton, Bay, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Escambia counties.
The 2012 plan proposed by the Florida Senate would let the dual representation of Walton County stand in the Senate, with Gaetz’ District 4 staying intact south of the Choctawhatchee Bay and Evers’ District 2 staying in place north of the bay.
However, there would be changes to Senate Districts 2 and 4, particularly in other areas, among them the extension of District 2 into Bay and Jackson counties.
Currently Walton County is represented in the Florida House of Representatives by two districts. District 5, currently held by State Representative Brad Drake (R-Eucheeanna), encompasses the area of the county from Freeport extending north to Paxton. District 7, currently represented by Marti Coley (R-Marianna), covers the area south of Freeport to the coast.
Most of the 2012 plan options proposed by the Florida House of Representatives would eliminate split House representation of Walton County, with all of Walton County falling into Drake’s District 5, along with Holmes, Washington and Jackson counties to the east. However, one of the map options, H000H9019, while removing District 7 from Walton County, would extend, from the east, a small sliver of District 6 into southeastern Walton County. District 6 is currently represented by State Representative Jimmy Patronis (R-Panama City).
It is anticipated that the Senate president will send the Senate’s plans for Congressional and Senate districts back to the Senate Reapportionment Committee for a final vote soon after the Legislature convenes on Jan. 10. After that vote, it is anticipated that the proposals will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote early in the legislative session.
A vote by the House on its redistricting proposals is targeted for the first week of the session.
Legal review of the proposals is scheduled to begin by February 2012 and be concluded by June 2012, in time for candidates to qualify for state and federal offices in the 2012 election.
The legislators continue to seek public input on the redistricting proposals. The Senate plans are posted online at www.flsenate.gov/redistricting, or for information citizens may call (855) FLA-MAPS toll free.
The House proposals are posted on the web site www.floridaredistricting.org, or citizens may call the House Redistricting Committee at (850) 488-3928 for information.