TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Senate is set to vote Thursday on new congressional districts that, at least for now, don’t follow lines proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration.
The Senate on Wednesday took up its proposals for congressional districts (SB 102) and state Senate districts (SJR 100) and positioned them for votes. That came after DeSantis’ general counsel filed a congressional proposal during the weekend that drew controversy.
When asked about the DeSantis proposal, Senate Reapportionment Chairman Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said Wednesday the Senate will follow the legislative process.
"We're gonna wait for the House to bring forth a map, and then the two of us are going to have to get together and reconcile and see what that looks like," Rodrigues said.
He declined to comment further on the governor’s proposal, saying he didn’t want to debate through the media.
Critics of the Senate’s proposal contend it would not provide proportional representation for Hispanic and Black Floridians. But Rodrigues said during a floor discussion Wednesday the proposed maps follow court-approved standards under the "Fair Districts" constitutional amendments that voters approved in 2010. The Fair District amendments prohibit lawmakers from drawing districts benefiting any party or candidate and require legislators to preserve the ability of minority voters to elect representatives of their choice.
"Staff (of the Senate) was directed to draw districts without reviewing political data, other than where a review of political data was required to perform an appropriate functional analysis," Rodrigues said. "Staff were directed to draw districts without the use of any residential information of any sitting member of the Florida Legislature or Congress and to draw the districts without regard to the preservation of existing district boundaries."
The Senate on Wednesday approved a change proposed by Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, to move a congressional line that would have split the city of Miami Gardens.
Jones called it a "huge move" to keep the South Florida city’s representation in a single congressional district.
The Senate is drawing state Senate lines, while the House is drawing state House lines. But they will have to negotiate a final congressional map. The House is at least a week behind in advancing its proposed lines. Florida is gaining a new congressional district this year, likely to be located in Polk County, because of the state’s growing population.
The House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee is not meeting this week. The House State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee is slated to meet Friday to consider new House lines.
Under the Senate congressional proposal, 16 seats would have voting populations that went for former Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. That would be an increase of one Republican-leaning seat.
On Sunday, DeSantis’ general counsel, Ryan Newman, submitted proposed lines that would establish 18 districts that went for Trump in 2020. The proposal would make vast changes to historically Black districts held by Democrats Al Lawson in North Florida and Val Demings in the Orlando area. The proposal would also affect the Tampa Bay-area district held by Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat running for governor this year.
In a statement, Newman said the proposal is one the governor’s office "can support, that adheres to federal and state requirements and addresses our legal concerns, while working to increase district compactness, minimize county splits where feasible, and protect minority voting populations."
DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw characterized the configuration of Lawson’s District 5, which would continue to stretch from Jacksonville to Tallahassee in the proposed lines by the Senate, an "unconstitutional gerrymander."
The DeSantis administration proposal quickly drew rebukes from a wide array of Democratic lawmakers and other groups.
The Equal Ground Action Fund, the political arm of a non-profit that seeks to increase Black political power in Florida, said the governor’s proposal "is signaling to everyone that he wants a certain type of voter to have unfettered access to the ballot box and representation at the congressional level. Simply put, the governor is diluting Black votes and representation."
The ultimate congressional map will be part of a bill that goes to DeSantis for his consideration. The final Senate and House maps will go to the attorney general and Florida Supreme Court and need to be in place before qualifying for congressional and legislative races begins June 13.
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