By Matt Wiley

The House maps stay; the Senate maps have to go. That’s the gist of the Florida Supreme Court’s decision on March 9 regarding the Florida Redistricting maps that have been one of the major focuses of the recently concluded regular session of the Florida legislature.

“We declare the plan apportioning districts for the Florida House of Representatives to be constitutionally valid under the Florida Constitution,” the Supreme Court stated in a majority opinion written by Justice Barbara Pariente. “We declare the plan apportioning the districts for the Florida Senate to be constitutionally invalid under the Florida Constitution.”

The Court voted unanimously (7-0) on the last day of the legislative session to pass the Florida House district maps, but voted 5-2 against the new Florida Senate district maps. This means that, as previously reported in Neighborhood News, New Tampa (which previously was primarily in District 60, with some neighborhoods in Dist. 61) will now be entirely within House District 63, along with the University of South Florida (USF) area and Old Carrollwood.

Wesley Chapel, which previously was in House District 61, will be in House District 38, entirely within the Pasco County lines.

“We are very, very pleased that the (Supreme) Court validated our maps,” says District 38 (previously District 61) Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel). “About 80-percent of the Senate maps also were approved, so we still think there’s a chance to get it right. We are going to get to take another crack at it.”

In the Supreme Court report, 32 of the 40 Senate Districts were approved, but eight specific districts will have to be redrawn during a special 15-day legislative session that began on March 14. Following the special session, the Supreme Court will have another 30-day period to analyze the constitutionality of the districts and decide whether or not to approve the new Senate map.

“None of the districts (rejected by the Supreme Court) are in the Tampa Bay area,” explains Rep. Weatherford. “But, there could be a ‘domino effect’ when the (rejected Senate) districts are redrawn.”

Rep. Weatherford says that House representatives will be present at the session to help assist with the redrawing of the Senate map, but the Senate will be “taking the reigns.”

Florida House, Senate and U.S. Congressional District maps are redrawn every ten years, after the U.S. national census is conducted. Using the census results, districts are redrawn according to population. A November amendment to the Florida Constitution called the Fair Districts Amendment requires districts to be drawn without regard to political parties. The Supreme Court ruled the Senate proposal violated that amendment.

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