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To Tallahassee and Back: Redistricting Then and Now

This week I discuss the once-every-10-year process known as "reapportionment." It is a process that has implications for the next decade as the lines for state and federal seats are redrawn.

Every 10 years the Florida Legislature is tasked with redrawing the legislative and Congressional lines that define the districts of each member (known as reapportionment or redistricting). It is a daunting task to say the least. 

In an age in which technology has advanced so much so quickly the opportunity for citizen involvement has been greatly enhanced, this reapportionment process had more citizen participation than any effort in the past. 

As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, the number of state legislators does not change, only the number of people they represent.

The number of members who represent the state in Congress can change, based on the ever-evolving demographics of the country. Nationally, there continues to be 435 congressional representatives.

Based on the number of people who have moved from other states or new residents who have made Florida their home, Florida picked up two new seats in the nation’s capital. For the past 10 years, we have had 25 voices in the U.S. House of Representatives.  We now have 27. 

Florida, like all states, continues to have two United States Senators. 

2002 was my first first-hand experience with the reapportionment process.  It was a contentious time which followed the economic hardships caused by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Florida, which relies heavily on tourism to keep the state’s coffers full, suffered a big economic loss that year. The pressures of cutting the state budget, which constitutionally must be a balanced budget, and the redrawing of the district lines, slowed the reapportionment process down considerably.  It was not until the final day of session, literally the final hour, until an agreement was struck.  I recall that as midnight of that final day approached, the concern was that if an agreement was not soon reached, the Legislature would most likely go into extended session. A collective sigh of relief could be heard throughout the Capitol building as the final maps were adopted with only minutes left on the clock. 

In 2012, the Legislature is not in the same position. Although lawmakers must grapple with an ongoing economic downturn, the shortfall had been projected well in advance of the legislative session (unlike 2001-2002 which hit suddenly and in such a dramatic and tragic fashion). 

Although the exact amount varies somewhat, it is projected that the fiscal year 2012-13 budget will be more than $1 billion less than this year’s $69.1 billion outlay.  With the budget process moving along in a timely fashion, the 2012 Legislature has already completed its work, for the time being anyway, on reapportionment. 

In 2010, during Florida’s last general election, voters adopted two amendments to the Florida Constitution, with about 63 percent of the vote, which require that state and federal seats be drawn to keep the interests of similar communities intact, as well as a requirement that district lines not be drawn to favor incumbent legislators. 

During the latter part of 2011 the House and Senate members assigned to the respective reapportionment committees (state House, state Senate and Congressional), traveled the state and conducted many public hearings.  Additionally, district map proposals from the general public were solicited and many were submitted through the Legislature’s computerized system created for that purpose. 

The Florida Supreme Court is required to approve the maps by April 16, 2012.  The legislature passed the final maps on February 9th.   Constitutionally, Florida’s attorney general is given 15 days from final approval of the maps to file them with the court for review. This year, the attorney general filed the maps within one day of their passage. The Florida Supreme Court must respond within 30 days with a determination that the maps pass constitutional muster. The 30tth day happens to fall on the final day of the legislative session, which would, in concept, give the legislature time to adjust the maps if needed. 

If the legislature is unable to fix any issue the court may order, a special reapportionment session must commence. Once Florida’s highest court signs off on the maps they are sent to the United States Attorney General (who then has 60 days to review and approve them).  Barring any objections the maps must be finalized prior to the qualifying period for state and federal offices ( a time period which runs from June 4-8).

With the 2012 reapportionment process, at least for the time being, in the hands of the court, the Florida Legislature is turning its attention to completing the state’s budget through the House & Senate budget conference process, something which will be the subject of a future entry. 

I welcome your questions about the legislative process.  Please feel free to leave your questions in the comment section, or e-mail me directly, and I will answer them in an upcoming post.

Tallahassee and Back: Thoughts and Observations on how the legislative Process Affects You is an ongoing blog by State Sen. Mike Fasano's  chief legislative aide. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Greg Giordano April 02, 2012 at 02:17 PM
UPDATE - the newly drawn Senate maps will have to pass U.S. Justice Department muster as well as Florida Supreme Court review. The plan was sent to the federal government on March 30. The House plan was sent earlier in the month (March 13). The reason the feds must review the maps is to ascertain that they comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. My previous post neglected to mention that step in the process. My apologies to all!
Greg Giordano April 05, 2012 at 05:52 PM
UPDATE Florida's attorney general sent the new Senate map to the Florida Supreme Court today for its review and approval.
Greg Giordano April 23, 2012 at 07:46 PM
UPDATE - on April 20 the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the newly submitted Senate plan, 15 days after it was sent to the court. A ruling is expected in the early weeks of May..
Greg Giordano April 27, 2012 at 03:46 PM
UPDATE - the Florida Supreme Court released a statement that the new Florida Senate map has been deemed constitutionally valid, thus putting an end to the court's role at this point in the process.
Greg Giordano May 01, 2012 at 02:36 PM
UPDATE - the United States Department of Justice has precleared the legislative and congressional maps in re compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act. This means that the districts can be implemented.

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