[ OP-ED COLUMN ]

Going Back to the Drawing Board


Published: Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 9:06 p.m.

Florida legislators are getting their second chance to draw state Senate district lines as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process.

Led by the Senate, the Legislature will use the 15-day special session, which is scheduled to end March 28, to recraft the district lines after a state Supreme Court ruling invalidated the first map.

The state's highest court cited problems with eight of the 40 districts, including a lack of compactness and lines that could favor some incumbents.

Once finished by the Legislature, the new map will be sent back to the Florida Supreme Court. But the big difference in the second round is if the court rejects the second try, the seven justices will draw the Senate lines. The court has already approved the map for the 120 House seats.

A court-drawn legislative map last happened in the 1992 redistricting session when the Democrats controlled the Legislature.

Senate Reapportionment Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he believes lawmakers can resolve the court's concerns — which are largely based on two new constitutional amendments setting redistricting standards.

"It could happen," Gaetz said about a court-drawn Senate map. "But I believe that we did our job. The court has done its job. Now the ball is back in our court to respond. And we intend to respond in a compliant fashion."

Gaetz said while some individual senators have raised questions with the court's critique of the first map, he said his committee will advance a revised map in the coming week that addresses the court's issues.

"I'm not in the business of arguing with the Supreme Court," he said.

"I'm in the business of complying with the Supreme Court. We'll do so to the best of our ability, and based on the will of this committee and the will of the Senate. And I hope that will be sufficient."

Gaetz said the redistricting process this year has been complicated by the new constitutional standards — which were aimed at limiting the gerrymandering of districts and were adopted by voters in 2010. "We're charting new ground," he said.

But Gaetz said he was "delighted" with the court's approval of the House's new districts and noted the court ruling basically upheld 32 of the Senate's 40 districts.

"But we still have some work to do," he said.

Meanwhile, an interested observer of the process is the Senate Reapportionment Committee's vice chair, Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Aventura. Margolis was the Senate president during the 1992 redistricting that eventually saw the Supreme Court draw the legislative lines.

Margolis said making adjustments to the maps was expected.

"It happens really with every reapportionment. There are issues that have to be taken care of," she said. "I will be delighted if we can get this done in 15 days."

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Pill-mill fight. Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi announced the state is winning its battle against illegal pill-mill clinics, shutting down some 213 clinics in the past year and arresting 34 doctors for their roles. Florida once had the distinction of being the nation's pill-mill capital.

LOSER OF THE WEEK

Florida jobs. Florida led the nation in month-over-month job losses in January, losing nearly 39,000 jobs. The good news was that Florida's unemployment rate dipped to 9.6 percent — its lowest rate in three years.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"Essentially, it codifies a dysfunctional bureaucratic system into law and asks Floridians to pay for it," Christopher Holley, executive director of the Florida Association of Counties, said in a letter asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto a Medicaid bill.

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