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    House puts stamp on redistricting

    Denying all requests by Democrats, Republicans tentatively okay a deal that redraws voting districts.

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 6, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Sounding more like witnesses testifying at a trial, members of the House Tuesday tentatively approved a series of redistricting maps for legislative and congressional districts.

    The plan approved for congressional seats gives Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young a district that divides St. Petersburg, running up the western half of Pinellas County to include southwest Pasco County. U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, would get a district centered in Tampa, reaching across Tampa Bay to take in some voters in southern parts of St. Petersburg.

    U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, would get a district that includes much of Pasco County, northeast Pinellas and part of Hillsborough.

    U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, would get a district that runs from Dixie County down through Hernando County, taking in east Pasco and east Hillsborough.

    Pinellas and Hillsborough would continue sharing two state Senate seats.

    With a court reporter taking notes and three Republican lawyers seated on the floor, GOP members fenced with Democrats, who asked question after question about districts drawn by Republicans.

    The Republican majority rejected a request from Democrats who wanted to have their own lawyers on the floor. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami recalled a similar day a decade ago when Democrats ran the House.

    "We made that same request 10 years ago and it was denied," Diaz-Balart said. "We weren't allowed to have our partisan counsel. These are the same attorneys who are suing the House and it would be highly unusual to permit attorneys who are suing us to be on the floor."

    Attorneys for House Democrats sued in federal court in Miami to have a judge take over redistricting. Former Rep. Miguel DeGrandy, the attorney for House Republicans, said he is seeking to have the suit moved to federal court in Tallahassee.

    Every Democratic amendment was voted down. The House is expected to approve all three plans today -- one each for the state House, state Senate and U.S. House.

    Redistricting is tied up in the struggle between the two chambers over the Senate's controversial plan to overhaul taxes. The Senate's redistricting plans are "on hold" for now, said Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton.

    If the House and Senate fail to agree on maps, House Speaker Tom Feeney said the House is prepared to take its plans to court and say, "it's the only legislative product available."

    "If the Senate fails to do its constitutional duty, we think the courts would give our plans some deference," said Feeney, R-Oviedo. "But it's not the way the process is supposed to work."

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    Lucy Morgan

    From the Times state desk