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Republican House lawmakers advance congressional plan to floor vote

Representative Tom Leek Screenshot.jpg
TheFloridaChannel.org
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Republican Rep. Tom Leek, chair of the House Redistricting Committee, answers questions about the committee's proposed congressional plan during a House floor discussion on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

The Florida House is ready to pass its proposed congressional districts after the GOP-controlled chamber on Thursday approved an amendment to the Senate's plan.

The Republican-controlled House's amendment includes two U.S. House maps — one would serve as a backup in case the preferred map is struck down in court. Most of the districts in both maps look the same; the biggest difference between the two House plans centers on the location of north Florida’s African American voting district.

The House’s amended plan is scheduled for a floor vote Friday.

The House’s fallback map has Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson’s north Florida district — Congressional District 5 — looking a lot like it does today, stretching from Gadsden County to eastern Duval County. The chamber’s preferred proposed map would place the district entirely in Duval County. House Redistricting Committee Chair Rep. Tom Leek explained the committee’s reasoning on the House floor Thursday.

“'Why two maps and one amendment?’ You may be asking," Leek said. "The primary map is put forward to address the legal theory put forward by the governor, while still protecting a Black minority seat in north Florida.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken issue with the current configuration of the district due to its east-west boundaries. He has instead proposed a district that is more compact in shape. Leek says that if the court strikes down the map eliminating Lawson’s district, then the secondary map would take its place.

“I acknowledge that the primary map looks visually different, even having two maps is a unique setup," Leek said. "However, we are faced with a unique situation and this is the House’s attempt at continuing to protect the minority group’s ability to elect a candidate of their choice, keeping the compactness concerns and working to bring this process in for a landing during the current legislative session.”

The state Senate has already passed a congressional map that keeps Lawson’s district largely intact. The two chambers must agree on a course of action before the measure heads to the governor’s desk. DeSantis has threatened to veto a map that keeps the 5th Congressional District's configuration and has described it as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

The House also approved Thursday shortening the length of time Floridians can bring a lawsuit challenging the maps from four years to 30 days. House Democratic Minority Co-Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell filed two amendments that would give voters more time to file a legal challenge, but both amendments failed.

“You’re basically saying to Florida voters, ‘We don’t want to hear from you. Unless you can bring this within thirty days, don’t even think about it,'" Driskell said. "And that’s an insult to Florida voters.”

The Senate plan would keep the current four-year statute of limitations in place.

Another difference between the two chambers’ plans is that the Senate plan would maintain a district in the Orlando-area where Black voters can elect a candidate of their choice.