Less than an hour after Florida legislators opened their fourth special session on redistricting Monday, they were roiling in a bitter dispute over how far they could go to protect half the Senate from facing voters in a tumultuous presidential election year. Just moments after the Legislature officially started its special session at noon, it became abundantly clear one major hurdle already exists as the chambers prepare to redraw Florida’s 40 state Senate seats: The two chambers, dominated by Republicans, are split over who will have to run for re-election in the Senate in 2016. The House, citing a 1982 court opinion and a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court in 2012, believes that when the Legislature redraws the district lines, every member whose district is revised will have to run for re-election in 2016. That would include as many as 14 state senators who were elected to four-year terms in 2014. “We’ve always understood it to be everyone has to go back and run again,” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, told reporters. Not so, said State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee.
Galvano said that his attorneys have told him that no matter what district changes are approved in the three-week special session, only senators currently up for re-election in 2016 will have to run again — even though the districts on which they were elected have been declared unconstitutional.
“We’re in a new era,” Galvano told reporters, saying the two anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendment approved by voters in 2010 put Florida into new legal territory. “There is a legal argument to be made that members who were elected have a right to those seats. We are going to have to look at it in the big picture.”
Galvano, who was first elected to the Senate in 2014 to a four-year term, would be among those who would not have to seek re-election in 2016 even though every redistricting map proposed so far would have him representing thousands of people he doesn’t represent now.