TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The Florida Senate approved its new redistricting maps by a 31-6 vote with five Democrats joining all 26 Republicans to approve the plan.

The passage came after a flurry of last minute amendments were added to a Florida Senate redistricting map which reached the floor Thursday for debate.

The six amendments stand in stark contrast to the debate over the first map, thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court for violating the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments approved by the voters in a November 2010 referendum.

Since the Senate is barred from taking another shot at the once-a-decade redistricting process, the Florida Supreme Court will draw the maps if the second draft is struck down.

Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat set to lead his party after the November elections, filed a pair of amendments shifting lines in Northeast Florida, which would have the effect of creating a pair of better opportunities for Democrats than they would have under the plan proposed by Senate Reapportionment Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Under Smith’s plans District 6, which draws the greatest share of its population from St. Johns County, would drop its portion of Volusia County and move into Clay County. As a result, a district that would have gone for Republican Gov. Rick Scott by 17.3 points in the 2010 elections under the Gaetz plan would see Scott’s edge over Democrat Alex Sink leap to 27.9 points under Smith’s map.

That would allow District 7, centered around Gainesville, to go from a district that Scott won by 9.1 points to one where Sink prevailed by 0.6 points. And it would drop Scott’s margin in District 8 — dominated by Volusia County — from 5.3 percent under the Gaetz plan to 2.1 percent.

The only difference between Smith’s maps is a population shift in one of the plans in Southeast Florida, though all three districts affected would remain overwhelmingly Democratic.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, continued his push for a new majority-Hispanic district in the Miami area — the fourth such seat in Miami-Dade County. But 53.5 percent of the district’s voting-age population would be non-black Hispanics under Diaz de la Portilla’s new plan — far lower than the 66.2 percent share under his old amendment.

Diaz de la Portilla said the new district would help the map withstand a legal challenge; critics say it is an attempt to help his brother win election to the seat.

Two amendments would change the Senate numbering system proposed by Gaetz and Senate leadership, which used a raffle to determine the number of districts. District numbers would determine how long members can serve under the state’s term limits.

Justices threw out the initial numbering system, saying it systematically allowed incumbents to take advantage of a loophole giving some senators 10 years in office.

They upheld the 120-district House map, but both chambers of the Republican-controlled Legislature are meeting in special session to revise the Senate plan.

The new map will go to the House next week and from there back to the Supreme Court. If the justices still are not satisfied they can revise it themselves.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report


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