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House passes redistricting plan amid veto threat

A PDF file showing the approved maps is included in this story.
The House’s primary map takes a similar approach to DeSantis in putting congressional district...
The House’s primary map takes a similar approach to DeSantis in putting congressional district 5, which Al Lawson currently represents, in Northeast Florida.(Florida House of Representatives)
Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 2:07 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NSF) - The Florida House on Friday approved a pair of maps aimed at mollifying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desire to condense a sprawling North Florida congressional district held by Al Lawson.

But before the House voted on the proposal (SB 102), DeSantis objected to it.

“I will veto the congressional reapportionment plan currently being debated by the House. DOA,” DeSantis tweeted.

A short time later during an appearance in Jacksonville, DeSantis added that his “legal folks” have concerns about the House proposal and that he doesn’t “bluff.”

“What makes you think after seeing me for however many years, what makes you think when I say I’m going to do something that I’m not going to follow through?” DeSantis said.

With the congressional map-making now moving back to the Senate for negotiations, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said the House “just got played.”

House Redistricting Chairman Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, said the House reached a “different conclusion on the same information,”

“Say what you will about the governor’s involvement, at least he engaged,” Leek said.

Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican who chairs the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, said the proposal is far from an “embarrassment” and “correctly balances” the concerns and feedback of people who would be affected.

The House voted 67-47 to approve an unusual plan that includes a “primary” map and a “backup” map, which would be used if courts reject the primary version. The plan came as lawmakers try to finish the once-a-decade reapportionment process.

The highest-profile issue has been North Florida’s Congressional District 5, which currently sprawls from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee. It was designed to help elect a minority and is held by Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.

The Senate passed a congressional map in January that largely would keep the current design of District 5. But DeSantis contends the design is unconstitutional and wants to dramatically revamp it by condensing the district in the Jacksonville area.

The House’s primary map takes a similar approach to DeSantis in putting the district in Northeast Florida. Its backup plan would be more in line with what the Senate proposed, continuing to stretch the district across North Florida.

During a debate Friday, House Democrats argued the maps are unconstitutional because they fail to account for the state’s growing minority populations. Also, Democrats contend offering a backup plan could set a precedent for future legislation intended to test state and federal law.

Rep. Dan Daley, D-Sunrise, said the proposal would establish “ranked” legislation. Lawmakers also believe DeSantis is trying to set up a challenge to 2010 voter-approved “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments, which were designed to prevent gerrymandering, and to the federal Voting Rights Act.

“We don’t do this with anything else. We don’t pass two pieces of legislation and say, ‘Well, one may be unconstitutional. The next one may be OK. So, let’s just give it a try,’” said Daley. “We don’t say, ‘Hey, we want the governor to have,’ by the sponsor, his own admission, ‘the governor’s opportunity to challenge the Voting Rights (Act), that’s why we’re passing this first primary map.’ We’ve never done anything like that, nor do we do it in any way, shape, or form.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said Thursday night he had not received a full briefing on the House proposal, but stood up for the plan.

“I believe the House map is in order,” Simpson told reporters. “I believe it’s constitutional. I believe the speaker (House Speaker Chris Sprowls) and his team have done a tremendous job putting that map together. And so, I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t pass that map.”

A map needs to be in place before candidate qualifying begins in mid-June. Lawmakers have already approved state House and Senate maps, which received approval Thursday from the Florida Supreme Court.

Florida is adding a congressional seat this year because of population growth, increasing the delegation from 27 to 28 seats.

DeSantis has pushed for new lines that would drop the number of districts that historically have elected Black candidates from four to two and push the number of Republican-held seats from the current 16 to 20, based on 2020 voting patterns.

The House’s proposed maps both would give the GOP the advantage in 18 seats, while the Senate map would expand the Republican majority to 17.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, argued the House’s primary map would diminish the ability of minorities to elect candidates in north and central Florida.

The Senate proposal, approved in January, offers four districts likely to elect Black members and three districts likely to elect Hispanic members, while the House maps are at three Black-performing districts and three Hispanic-performing districts.

Among the differences between the House and Senate plans are the futures of Central Florida’s Congressional District 7, held by Democrat Stephanie Murphy, and District 10, held by Democrat Val Demings. Murphy is not seeking re-election this year, while Demings is running for U.S. Senate.

The Senate would keep most of the existing lines for those districts. The House would merge most of the two districts, potentially reducing Democratic seats in the Orlando area from three to two. The change would move Murphy’s district from Democratic-leaning to Republican, while slightly increasing Black representation in District 10.

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