Legislative Panel OKs 3rd District

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- House and Senate negotiators agreed last night on

a trimmed-down 3rd Congressional District to replace the one

thrown out by a federal court.

The plan, a blend of bills passed by the House and Senate, is

expected to come up for a vote in both houses today.

The Jacksonville-to-Orlando district would split Flagler and

St. Johns counties but keep Baker and Taylor counties whole.

Baker County, currently divided between the 2nd and 3rd

districts, would move into U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns' 6th

District.

The new 3rd District would have a 42.3 percent black voting-age

population compared with 50.6 in the current district, which a

federal court threw out as unconstitutional.

Rep. Tracy Upchurch, D-St. Augustine, said he was disappointed

that St. Augustine and Bunnell are split between U.S. Rep.

Corrine Brown's 3rd District and U.S. Rep. Tillie Fowler's 4th

District.

"Right now, I'm a very lonely voice on keeping Flagler and St.

Johns together," said Upchurch, who added that he was unable to

enlist the support of Sens. Bill Bankhead, R-Ponte Vedra Beach,

and Betty Holzendorf, D-Jacksonville.

Qualifying for congressional seats is scheduled for Monday

through Friday next week, but will have to be delayed until new

districts are approved by the court.

Assistant Secretary of State Rich Heffley said he hoped the

Legislature would set a new qualifying time, but if it did not,

his office would ask the court to do it.

Although the federal court has ruled that Gov. Lawton Chiles

has veto power over the plan, he has not been involved in the

negotiations. Chiles said yesterday he had not had a chance to

review the plan.

It is unlikely, however, that he would veto a plan that had

strong support in the House and Senate.

Rod Sullivan, the attorney who handled the suit challenging

Brown's current district, said he would oppose any district

connecting Jacksonville and Orlando.

The court ruled that the current horseshoe-shaped district was

unconstitutional because race was the predominant factor in

drawing it. Brown, while she is appealing the court decision,

has not objected to the Jacksonville-to-Orlando concept.

PENSION BILL SCARES CITY: Jacksonville taxpayers could be stuck

with a $5 million-a-year bill if a proposed increase in pension

benefits for police officers and firefighters clears the

Legislature, city officials warned yesterday.

State officials disputed the cost estimate, however.

The proposal, by Rep. George Crady, D-Yulee, would include

overtime, sick leave and other forms of compensation along with

the basic salary in calculating pension benefits, instead of

basing them on just the base salary.

City Council President Dick Kravitz sent a letter to Duval

delegation members expressing concerns about the bill that has

passed the House and is pending in the Senate. He said the City

Council should have had a chance to comment on the bill before

it was introduced to the Legislature. …