The Legislature’s redistricting chiefs agreed Thursday to move forward with the House’s version of districts for the state Senate, setting up a high-stakes meeting late in the afternoon where senators are scheduled to vote on whether to formally adopt the plan.
The surprising agreement came roughly two hours after an earlier meeting between House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. That meeting focused largely on discussions of differences between the two chambers’ plans for a map of the 40 Senate districts and possible compromises.
The final negotiating meeting between Oliva and Galvano lasted less than two minutes, as both sides quickly agreed to send the House map back to their respective chambers. While the House is virtually certain to approve it, the fate of the plan in the Senate seemed far from assured.
The Senate was set to meet at 4 p.m. (3 p.m. Central) to vote on the House plan, with the House starting 30 minutes later.
Last week, the Senate approved its version of the map on a 22-18 vote after a compromise dealing with three districts in South Florida meant to elect candidates favored by Hispanic voters. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who was a key player in the Senate compromise, has insisted that he would not support the House map, which he says weakens Hispanic voting strength in one of those seats.
There are other problems that could complicate moving the House map through the Senate. It could throw Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, into the same district as Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Along with Diaz de la Portilla, Legg was one of the votes in favor of the Senate version of the map.
Additionally, Sen. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican who supported the Senate plan, voiced unease Wednesday about a decision to split Lake County, even though the county was divided in earlier drafts of the proposal.
A move Thursday by the Senate to reject the House version of the map would leave the Legislature close to ending a second straight special redistricting session without an agreement. An August session aimed at drawing congressional lines collapsed when the House and Senate couldn’t reach an agreement.
Both maps are being drawn for violating a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering. The congressional lines were struck down by the Florida Supreme Court. The prompted the Legislature to reach a settlement with voting-rights organizations based on the conclusion that the Senate map, originally drawn in 2012, would also likely be found unconstitutional.
Lawmakers did not linger to talk to reporters after the final meeting Thursday between Oliva and Galvano. But earlier in the day, Diaz de la Portilla ruled out a series of plans that would have combined the House map with different arrangements of the contested seats in Miami-Dade.
“I think what you’re doing is clearly packing Hispanics into two of the three Hispanic seats and cracking them in the one,” he said.
During the morning meeting, Galvano pressed the House for explanations of some of the changes, including Hays’ concerns about Lake County. But Jason Poreda, a House redistricting aide, said keeping the county together would have rippled through the map and caused problems elsewhere, such as dividing other counties.
“To keep Lake County whole in this map, it would have a net negative effect,” Poreda said.