After spending nearly three years and millions of dollars defending its redistricting maps, the Florida Senate gave up the fight Tuesday as it conceded for the first time that the courts were going to find it violated the state Constitution. Lawyers for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause have argued the Republican-controlled Senate violated the so-called Fair Districts provision of the state Constitution that prohibits drawing lines to favor a political party or any incumbents. As a result of Tuesday’s settlement, the Legislature will now be called into its third special session of the year to redraw at least 28 of its 40 districts statewide. That special session is scheduled to run from Oct. 19 to Nov. 6, two months after the Legislature holds a special session in August to fix congressional districts that the Florida Supreme Court ruled earlier this month had violated the state Constitution.
“This is remarkable,” said David King, an attorney for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. “The Florida Senate has admitted that they drew an unconstitutional map and as a consequence of that, they now have agreed to fix the problem.”
But state Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, disputed that interpretation. He said the Senate did not concede it violated the law, only that it was apparent that the courts were going to find it had, based on the congressional district ruling handed down earlier in the month.
Beyond altering some lines on a map, the redrawing could have a wide-ranging impact on who will lead the Florida Senate and the state’s overall political agenda. If Republicans retain control of the Senate in 2016, the redrawn districts could make politically safe districts for many incumbents more competitive. That in turn could shake up an already tight contest between state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to determine who will lead the chamber.