TALLAHASSEE — The first redistricting maps for congressional and state Senate seats were approved Thursday by a Senate panel — largely keeping a partisan balance in Florida that currently favors Republicans.
Florida gains a new congressional district this year because of population gains over the past decade. The maps advanced Thursday would create 16 Republican-leaning seats to 12 for Democrats, not varying much from the state’s current 16-11 congressional split.
Similarly, in a Senate where Republicans now control 24 seats in the 40-member chamber, the boundaries approved include 23 districts where former President Donald Trump beat Democratic President Joe Biden last fall and a Republican would be considered favored.
House versions of the congressional boundaries and a redraw of the 120 House districts may still be more than a week away. Lawmakers, who began the 2022 session Tuesday, are expected to agree on maps by their scheduled March 11 adjournment.
See the maps
Vote could come next week
Senate Redistricting Chair Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said the full Senate could take up the congressional and Senate maps as early as next week.
The early lack of drama over Florida’s partisan split is a departure from what many expected this session. Republicans nationally are eager to flip control of Congress away from Democrats; Florida’s GOP-led Legislature was likely sensing some pressure to maximize the party’s chances of gaining new seats.
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But Florida Republican leaders also appear reluctant to overplay their hand and undergo a repeat of the redistricting clash from a decade ago. At that time, three years of lawsuits revealed that GOP lawmakers had secretly worked with political consultants to craft maps favoring incumbents and the party, in violation of the Florida constitution.
But some potential areas of contention are emerging in the latest plans that could take a court to settle.
While the congressional plans maintain the state’s current balance of minority representation, with the populations of four districts inclined to elect a Black member of Congress and four favoring the election of an Hispanic representative, some Democrats and allied groups say those numbers should have improved in this round.
Similarly, the state Senate map creates five Black-oriented districts and five likely to elect an Hispanic senator – levels unchanged from those existing within the state’s current boundaries.
Population gain driven by Hispanics
But Florida’s 2.7 million population gain in the 2020 U.S. Census was powered by a remarkable 1.4 million increase in the number of Hispanic residents of the state.
Yet even with this growth, the number of congressional and Senate districts considered capable of allowing Hispanic voters to elect a representative of their choice would remain unchanged since the current boundaries were approved by courts in 2015.
Steven Mangual, a coordinator with LatinoJustice, told the Senate Reapportionment Committee Thursday that the plans fail to meet state and federal voting protections guaranteed by law.
"They dilute Latino political power," he said.
Rodrigues, the committee chair, said afterwards, “I am 100% confident that we are fully compliant with all federal requirements, constitutional requirements and state statutory requirements.”
Since lawsuits are likely to challenge whatever boundaries are set by Florida lawmakers, Rodrigues added, “We’ll see what the judges say.”
Cecile Scoon, a Panama City lawyer and president of the Florida League of Women Voters, has been making similar points in redistricting hearings about the decision by lawmakers not to conduct a deeper, so-called functional analysis of voting patterns.
She has said this would likely find that more minority-heavy districts are warranted than were created in 2015 that were based on census figures then five years old.
Instead, the functional analysis has been confined to the current districts which are serving as the benchmark for the new maps.
“You have to look beyond the benchmark,” Scoon told the panel Thursday.
In a change approved Thursday, unlike earlier versions of the Senate’s congressional plans, the latest maps maintain the general layout of Palm Beach County districts now represented by U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton.
These districts would continue to hug the coastline, while previous Senate proposals had them side-by-side in South Florida.
John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida Senate advances redistricting plans for congressional, Senate seats