After a two week special session, Florida legislatures failed to reach an agreement on drawing up new district lines. Senators staged a walkout and House members rejected requests to extend the session into a third week by a 96-3 vote. The session ended at noon on Friday. Negotiations over district maps broke down over changes the Senate made that put Sarasota County into one district and moved District 15 to include all of eastern and southern Hillsborough County. By law, districts must follow existing geographic and political boundaries as much as possible, such as rivers, roads and city and county boundaries.
Lawmakers have had since Aug. 10 to agree to new maps. The disagreement and inability to reach a compromise by their self-imposed deadline of noon today has led to consternation among many. Throughout the special session on redistricting, House and Senate leaders have repeatedly said that they did not anticipate disagreement or that the session would not be wrapped up by noon.
This marks the third session that ended with fighting between Republicans and creates political uncertainty heading into the key 2016 elections. Republicans have battled each other for months over healthcare expansion, a state budget and the recent mandate by the Supreme Court to redraw congressional district lines to adhere to constitutional demands that they not intentionally favor a party or incumbent.
Florida Governor Rick Scott can force the Legislature back to work to agree on a map before a court hearing on Tuesday. However, after lawmakers failed for a third time to draw a legally defensible map, Governor Scott decided not to order lawmakers back to work. The next step is up to Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis at a hearing Tuesday. Lewis can consider the competing House and Senate maps or ask the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, who successfully sued the Legislature, to submit their own proposal, or draw one himself.
The Supreme Court ruled in July that the current districts don’t meet a voter-approved constitutional amendment that requires districts to be compact and not drawn to benefit a political party or incumbents. Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, in an opinion column in the Tampa Bay Times, said lawmaker-sponsored map changes must be “nonpartisan and incumbent-neutral,” and citizens offering suggestions should attend forthcoming legislative hearings in Tallahassee. Even “nonpublic” meetings must be recorded for preservation and all emails on redistricting saved at the Supreme Court’s direction, both leaders told members.