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Fla. Senate panel approves redistricting plan

By Bill Kaczor

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 21 2012 5:55 p.m. MDT

CORRECTS SPELLING OF EMHOF - Debbie Brown the secretary of the senate announces the outcome for a senate district as Rynelle Emhof, left, looks on, on Wednesday, March 21, 2012. The random drawing determines the length of a senators term, two or four years, for each district in the up coming election as the senate redistricting committee mets during the special session in Tallahassee, Fla.

Steve Cannon, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A pair of hand-cranked, bird cage-like Bingo machines spat out green and white balls Wednesday for the random assignment of all 40 district numbers as part of a proposal to fix flaws in the Florida Senate's redistricting map.

In a historic scene that could have come straight out of a church basement, the whirring machines decided whether senators elected in November would serve four-year terms (white) or just two (green).

The results also determined which senators have the potential of serving more than the usual eight years before being forced out by term limits.

The drawing, which was held shortly after the Senate Reapportionment Committee approved a revised map, drew opposition from some senators.

"I object to casting lots," said Sen. Ronda Storms. The Valrico Republican argued the drawing violated state gambling laws.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla said he didn't have a problem with the lottery itself but objected to the short 30-minute notice before it was held.

"I don't believe this last-minute quick pick that we are intending to do here today is the right way to do it," the Miami Republican said.

The committee, though, voted 21-6 to go ahead with the Bingo-like approach. The full Senate will take up the revised map and new district numbers on Thursday. The House will consider it next week to close out a 15-day special session.

Committee Chairman Don Gaetz said the panel needed a random, incumbent-neutral way to select the district numbers in response to a Florida Supreme Court ruling that kicked the original Senate map back to the Republican-controlled Legislature. The justices, though, approved the 120-district House plan.

The 5-2 opinion said the Senate's original numbering scheme violated new anti-gerrymandering standards by intentionally favoring incumbents. The justices concluded it was designed to maximize the number of incumbents who can exceed the eight-year term limits.

To keep terms staggered, half of the Senate will run for two year terms this year instead of the usual four. That and off-year special elections also can result in some senators serving from nine to 11 years.

The drawing may avoid violating the Fair Districts ban on intentionally favoring incumbents, but 18 of 29 incumbents not term-limited this year still drew numbers that would let them serve longer than eight years — 11 Republicans and seven Democrats.

Ten Republicans and one Democratic incumbent would be limited to eight years. The eight-year group, though, includes two pairs of incumbents who would find themselves in the same district under the revised Senate map.

One of them, Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, says he would move to a nearby vacant district to avoid running against Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. The others with a potential face-off are Sens. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton.

The new map also is designed to correct problems the justices found with eight districts, although 16 others also would have revised lines to accommodate those changes.

Balls numbered 1 to 40 were loaded into one Bingo machine while the other held 20 green and 20 white balls. Both were spun simultaneously in a Senate committee room. The numbered balls corresponded to temporary numbers for each district. The district numbers were changed as needed depending on whether the second ball was green or white.

The final numbers go roughly in order from the western end of the Panhandle down to south Florida.

Senate Secretary Debbie Brown got as far as announcing the third district before Storms raised a point of order. She asked for an attorney general's opinion on whether the scheme violated Florida's gambling laws.

"Whoever plays or engages in any game at cards, keno, roulette, faro or other game of chance, at any place, by any device whatever, for money or other thing of value, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree," Storms read from the statute.

The maximum penalty for a second-degree misdemeanor is 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Storms said the stakes were two more years of legislative pay checks and that she believed Brown and two staffers who turned the cranks would be the guilty parties, not the lawmakers.

Gaetz ordered the selection to continue and later ruled Storms' point of order was "not well taken." The Niceville Republican said the drawing was done for a legislative purpose and that "no member stands to gain or lose more than any other member."

Initially, Gaetz had proposed holding the drawing Thursday or Friday on the Senate floor, but that drew objections from some senators. Simmons argued a spectacle comparable to hostess Vanna White turning letters on the "Wheel of Fortune" television program would upset the Senate's decorum.

Gaetz, who is in line to become Senate president in November, is among those who drew four-year terms. Gaetz, who already has served six years, said he'd have to ask his wife, Victoria, before deciding whether he's a winner or loser.

"I think she was hoping to go home" after this two-year presidential term, Gaetz said.

The committee voted 21-6 for the revised map on a largely party line roll call. Four of 10 Democrats joined all 11 Republicans in supporting the map.

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