Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto on a new Florida congressional map is bringing lawmakers back to the state’s capital for a special session on Tuesday, April 19.
Legislators approved the map well before the session concluded, despite statements by DeSantis that he’d likely reject what they proposed. Leaders in the House and Senate say they’re now deferring the map redraw to DeSantis as they prepare for a short session.
In a joint statement released on April 11, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls said legislative reapportionment staff won’t be drafting or producing a map for introduction during special session. Instead, the two say they’ll wait for communication from the governor’s office with a map that he will support.
“Our intention is to provide the governor’s office opportunities to present that information before House and Senate redistricting committees,” the two said in the joint statement. “We look forward to working with you next week as we complete our constitutional obligation for the 2022 redistricting process.”
Following each decennial census, the legislature redraws districts by which Florida voters elect their state representatives, senators and members of the U.S. House. Through the redistricting process, legislators redraw congressional and legislative districts to adjust for uneven growth rates in different parts of the state.
They also redistribute seats in the U.S. House based on the census. Florida’s population grew from 18.8 million in 2010 to 21.5 million in 2020. As a result, Florida gets one more representative to the U.S. House, for a total of 28.
Florida’s 26th Congressional District currently includes all of Monroe County and a portion of south-west Miami Dade County. Per the legislative-approved Congressional map, those boundary lines largely remain the same, but it would become the 28th Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez would continue representing residents within the district. Elected in 2020, his two-year term is up this year.
The main issue leading to DeSantis’ veto of the map on March 29 surrounded Florida’s 5th Congressional District in north Florida. A seven-page memorandum by DeSantis and Ryan Newman, general counsel, states that Florida’s 5th Congressional District, in primary and secondary maps enacted by the legislature, violates the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. “It assigns voters primarily on the basis of race,” the memorandum says, “but is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest.”
Per Politico, the governor took aim at the seat held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a black Democrat from Tallahassee. Lawson’s north Florida district traverses roughly 200 miles and connects minority neighborhoods in Jacksonville with those in the state capital and in neighboring Gadsden County, the state’s only majority black county.
“The court has interpreted the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit state legislatures from using race as the ‘predominant’ factor motivating (their) decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district … unless they can prove that their ‘race-based sorting of voters serves a ‘compelling interest’ and is ‘narrowly tailored to that end,” Newman wrote.
DeSantis said in an April 12 press conference in Miami-Dade that the map will have north Florida drawn in a neutral manner.
“We are not doing a 200-mile gerrymander that divvies up people based on the color of their skin. That is wrong,” he said. “That’s not the way we govern in the state of Florida. That will be litigated, but I can tell you the original district would absolutely have been litigated.”
In a statement on April 11, Lawson said the Florida legislature is caving to the intimidation of DeSantis and his desire to create additional Republican seats in Congress by eliminating minority-access districts.
“Previously, the Florida Supreme Court scolded the Florida legislature for injecting partisan politics into the reapportionment process. Florida voters were hopeful that legislators would have learned their lesson. They did not,” he said. “Again, I am not surprised, but disappointed with the legislature’s inability to fulfill their constitutional duties as elected officials without political interference from DeSantis.”
Time is ticking for state officials to get a new map in place to accommodate the additional congressional district in Florida. June 17 is the final day for a congressional candidate to qualify. The primary election is set for Aug. 23.
As state lawmakers prepare for a return to Tallahassee, many are seeking a special session to deal with Florida’s property insurance crisis. Letters from Republicans and Democrats were sent to DeSantis in the past few days calling for the House and Senate to convene.
“Florida is nearing a tipping point, and our neighborhoods are in danger of losing their viability,” said state Sen. Lauren Book, minority Democratic leader. Some insurance companies have been unable to reissue policies, are ceasing operations or are pricing renewals at unaffordable rates, leaving thousands of Floridians with the unsettling surprise that they’ve lost coverage and must scramble to protect their most valuable asset. All of these issues are clearly creating an affordability crisis for our constituents.”
State Rep. Jim Mooney said he expects a special session on insurance.
“I’m not sure when it’ll be, but my thoughts are prior to the election,” he said.