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Florida Democrats stage sit-in before congressional map passes

Democratic Lawmakers SitIn Tallahassee.jpg
Valerie Crowder
Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus stage a sit-in and pray-in on the House floor nearly two hours into debate over Gov. Ron DeSantis' congressional map on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Gov. Ron DeSantis' congressional map was met with resistance up until Republicans in the legislature passed it on Thursday.

Almost two hours into debate over the controversial map, Black Democratic lawmakers began moving to the front of the House chamber floor in protest. "When Black votes are under attack, what do we do? Stand up. Fight back," they chanted before Republican lawmakers filed out. "We will occupy this floor. We will not be denied."

Republican House Speaker Chris Sprowls declined to speak with reporters following the map’s passage, but he issued a statement accusing Democratic lawmakers of hijacking the legislative process with their protest on the House floor.

The map would give Republicans in Congress a 20-8 seat advantage over Democrats, even though the two parties share an almost equal size of the state’s electorate. It would also eliminate two U.S. House districts represented by African American Democrats: Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.

Right before this week's special lawmaking session began, voting rights groups, Democratic lawmakers and voters rallied outside the Florida Capitol in protest of the governor's map. About two days later, the session ended with a protest on the House floor.

Members of the Black Legislative Caucus led the nearly hour-long sit-in and pray-in. They demanded that GOP legislative leaders halt a vote on the governor's map and instead pass their own bipartisan plan.

“We tried to propose solutions to get us to take a step back. Let’s take the temperature down. Let’s look at these maps. Let’s not let the governor interfere with our constitutional duty," said Democratic Ranking Member Rep. Fentrice Driskell of Tampa. "Unfortunately, those requests were denied.”

Two measures that strip some of Disney’s regulatory privileges also passed swiftly without debate. Orlando Democratic Rep. Tray McCurdy, who helped lead the sit-in, says GOP members prioritized politics over real issues facing Floridians, including affordable housing.

“We also know that people at home aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on because they’re trying to control the narrative, talking about Disney World and his fight with the maps instead of helping people get a house." McCurdy said. "We have so many issues here in the state of Florida that we’re not addressing."

The governor has two weeks to sign his U.S. House map into law. The districts are expected to determine where congressional candidates run ahead of the November elections.