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Without Maps, Fair District Public Meetings May Leave Little to Debate


BRADENTON -- Tonight in Daytona Beach, state lawmakers will hold one of a series of public hearings before drawing new lines for state congressional voting districts, including the state's two new congressional districts awarded after the 2010 census.

The challenge is to balance the states 18.8 million people among 40 Senate and 120 House districts, plus the two new federal districts. The 26-city redistricting tour will continue through July. A constitutional amendment mandated "fair districting" last fall. It passed by a 63 percent vote as a ballot referendum.

A major point of contention was to map or not to map, prior to the hearings taking place. Legislative leaders decided there would be no maps, saying they would come post-public hearings. Wayne Bailey, a Stetson University political science professor told the Daytona News Journal that not having maps leaves little for citizens to comment on. Co-chair of the Senate Redistricting Subcomittee, Dorothy Hukill disagreed, telling the same publication that producing maps first could give the impression that they'd already been decided by legislators prior to public input.

Another expected hurdle for the upcoming hearing scheduled for the July 29 in Miami is a lawsuit aiming to throw out the fair district amendments. Filed by two members of congress-- Mario Diaz-Balert, R-Miami and Jacksonville's Corrine Brown D-District 3, the suit contends among other things, that the amendment could hurt minority representation. Since House Speaker Dean Cannon had his chamber join the suit, taxpayers are funding both sides --  the House challenge and the state's defense of its new law.

The Florida House has set aside $30 million for the redistricting fight, while the Senate has budgeted $9 million.

Districts like Brown's "majority- minority" were motive for the fair district amendment. Brown noted, that no African American since 1871 represented Florida in Washington until districts were drawn with an eye on minority representation in 1992 - the year she was elected.

Whether the fairing of districts end up fair or not may not spring from these hearings. It may be left up to the courts. As for the meetings, without a look at what lawmakers are plotting, one has to wonder how much input or involvement citizens are likely to have.


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