- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - With time running out, the Florida Legislature now has dueling maps to redraw the state’s 27 congressional districts.

Either of the rival maps would make dramatic shifts to Florida’s political landscape and could likely end the political careers of several incumbent members of Congress.

But the session is scheduled to end this Friday and between now and then top Republicans in the House and Senate must agree on one map to end the special session on time.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 28-8 for a new map that would make significant changes across the state. But it is not identical to one the House passed earlier this week, having a different configuration for districts in the Tampa Bay area and in central Florida.

Legislators are holding a rare special session because the state Supreme Court threw out the existing map. The court in July ruled that lawmakers violated standards adopted by voters that prohibit drawing districts to benefit an incumbent or a member of a political party. Voters in 2010 adopted the “Fair Districts” standards that triggered three years of legal challenges, resulting in the court decision.

The House earlier this week passed a map that was drawn up by legislative staff and lawyers ahead of the special session. It has drawn the ire of several members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. The Jacksonville Democrat has already filed a federal lawsuit against the proposal, contending it would disenfranchise black voters.

The Senate took that staff-created map and tweaked it at the urging of Sen. Tom Lee. The Brandon Republican wanted to reduce the number of districts in Hillsborough County. Lee, who says legislators are not obliged to “rubber stamp” a map drawn by staff, maintains his proposal has resulted in a better map because it does not split as many cities in central Florida.

The two legislators in charge of redistricting met late Wednesday afternoon to begin negotiations over a final deal. Rep. Jose Oliva, a Miami Republican, met with Sen. Bill Galvano who then described the differences between the two versions. Oliva, who said he needed to “digest” the Senate proposal, did not rule out the possibility that the two sides could reach an agreement.

While GOP legislators are struggling to reach a deal, Democratic legislators contended that lawmakers need to find a new procedure to draw maps in the future.

House Democrats held a news conference to express support for a bill that would create an Orlando-based independent commission to draw legislative and congressional districts. It would be made up of an equal number of Democrats, Republicans and people registered with neither party. They said having legislators draw the maps doesn’t work because it becomes more about power than fairness.

“It’s a rotten process, it’s a defiled process, it has to be reformed and it needs to be drastic,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat and sponsor of the measure to create the commission. “This process needs to be blown up.”

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Correspondent Brendan Farrington contributed to this story.

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Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fineout


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