From The News Service of Florida:
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Sept. 22, 2011 The Florida Senate plan to carve up the state’s political districts will start to emerge in early December. The Senate Reapportionment Committee said Thursday it expects to begin considering a redistricting bill during the week of Dec. 5, after a Nov. 1 deadline for the public, interest groups and senators to submit proposed maps.
Committee members would not vote on the bill until later, and it could undergo numerous changes. Also, it is too early to know when the full Senate could take up the plan.
But committee Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he is trying to avoid last-minute surprises in the politically charged redistricting process. Along with starting to consider the bill in early December, Gaetz said he does not want senators to spring “late-filed” amendments that would leave little time for analysis.
Gaetz said he wants a process where there are “no surprises, no gotchas, no sudden amendments that are material and change everything.”
In recent weeks, lawmakers have faced criticism from voting-rights groups about not moving fast enough and fears that incumbents will draw districts in private.
Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, also said it’s important for lawmakers to be aware of any proposed changes in the maps. He said his sprawling rural district includes all or parts of 13 counties, stretching from Citrus to Baker.
“Every time somebody touches a map, they’re going to be moving me,” Dean said.
The Senate committee has received 64 proposed redistricting plans from the public, with 34 of those mapping out congressional districts and the rest related to House or Senate districts. The committee, which has held hearings across the state, agreed Thursday to a Nov. 1 deadline for the public and senators to submit proposals.
Earlier this week, the House’s redistricting committee also decided to accept public proposals until Nov. 1, though House members will be able to submit maps until Nov. 14.
Gaetz said he and House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, were sending a letter Thursday to about 50 organizations — primarily civil-rights and minority-advocacy groups — to inform them of the Nov. 1 deadline.
“We want to give them last call, because we really do want to know what they think,” Gaetz said.
With input from senators, staff members will draw up the bill that will go to the committee Dec. 5. Gaetz said the committee will hold meetings in October and November to examine details of four regions of the state, which will help guide the staff.
The first meeting, which is expected Oct. 5, would focus on a large swath of North Florida, including the Panhandle and Big Bend.
Another meeting in October will deal with an area roughly from Jacksonville to Orlando, while meetings in November will involve much of the state’s west coast and South Florida.
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