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House Takes Redistricting Standoff to Court

The House headed to court Monday as the next step in a heated battle with the Senate over how to redraw Florida's 27 congressional districts.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, announced late Monday that House lawyers asked the Florida Supreme Court to allow a Leon County judge to consider redistricting plans from the House, Senate and potentially other parties in a lawsuit that led to a ruling last month striking down eight of the state's congressional districts.

A special session aimed at redrawing the congressional lines collapsed Friday after the House and Senate failed to agree on whether to amend a "base map," drawn by legislative aides to satisfy a Supreme Court opinion that the current districts violated the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" standards approved by voters in 2010. Senators wanted to make changes to the base map to consolidate eastern Hillsborough County into one congressional district and avoid splitting up Sarasota County, but the House balked.

The decision to submit the House proposal to the courts, though, could escalate the confrontation between the two chambers. Until now, the House and Senate have generally presented a united front in the face of the challenge to the districts.

"I want to reiterate that this decision is not made because of personality or politics. ... While it gives me great pause to ask the court to decide this matter, I can assure you that the difference of opinion between the two chambers is both significant and legitimate," Crisafulli wrote in a memo to House members.

In its request to the Supreme Court, the House would also reserve the right of the Legislature to redraw the congressional lines at any time.

"Judicial proceedings to establish a redistricting plan should be conducted without prejudice to the inherent authority of the Legislature at any time during or after those proceedings to reconvene and enact valid redistricting legislation, and any plan adopted by the court should expressly be an interim or provisional plan that will remain in place only until superseded by subsequent legislation," said the House's Monday filing.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis is set to hold a hearing Tuesday on how to proceed with the case now that the Legislature was unable to approve a map.

Senate President Andy Gardiner said in a statement issued by his office that the Senate still hoped the Legislature could work out its differences on the congressional plan.

"The Senate offered two resolutions to extend the special session and made numerous attempts to enter into a formal conference process to resolve differences between the House and Senate maps," said Gardiner, R-Orlando. "During tomorrow's hearing, the Senate attorneys will convey to the court the Senate's continued willingness to compromise and work with the House to fulfill our responsibility to draw a constitutionally compliant congressional map for Florida."