Republican state Rep. Tom Leek. Credit: FL House of Representatives
The Florida House Redistricting Committee voted Friday to approve not one, but two plans to reapportion the state’s congressional delegation.
Containing what chairman Tom Leek described as Plan A and Plan B, the legislation invites the Florida Supreme Court, which must approve any redistricting plan, to pick the second option if the justices don’t care for the first.
The hedging reflects the predicament the committee found itself in. It wanted to protect a Black-held district in North Florida that Gov. Ron DeSantis argues constitutes a racial gerrymander, while still abiding by language in the Florida Constitution forbidding diminution of minority voting strength.
DeSantis has proposed his own map eliminating that Black district. The committee’s Plan A would shrink it so that it fits in Duval County only, leaving Blacks to the west — including Gadsden County, the only majority-minority county in Florida — in a solidly Republican district.
Plan B would largely retain the district at issue — dubbed Congressional District 3, modeled on a district now held by Black Democrat Al Lawson.
“I know this is a lot to take in,” said Leek, a Republican from Volusia County.
“However, we are faced with a unique situation, and this is the House attempt at continuing to protect the minority group’s ability to continue to elect a candidate of their choice,” he said, while “working to make sure we bring this process in for a landing during the regular session.”
That’s scheduled to end on March 11 if the Legislature adjourns on time.
The final vote was 15-9 to send the contraption (HB 7503) to the House floor, with a couple of Republicans voting No because, they said, they agreed with the governor that U.S. Supreme Court precedents handed down since the Florida Supreme Court approved the district in principle in 2015 render it unconstitutional now.
Both Plan A and Plan B would leave Blacks and Hispanics each with three districts in which they are likely to be able to vote in a candidate of their choosing.
The legislation includes language requiring any legal challenge to be filed with the justices within 30 days of becoming law. Leek said that to assist the court in ruling in time for candidates to qualify in the new districts in advance of this year’s elections.
The vote came one week after the Subcommittee on Congressional Redistricting voted out a map resembling Plan B.
The legislation remains to be reconciled with the Senate’s map, which includes a sprawling North Florida Black district.
Following the hearing, Leek acknowledged that the governor pushed the committee in the direction it took.
“I think the governor’s argument is novel but it’s not necessarily wrong, either,” he told reporters.
“Remember where we are in the process. This is just like the budget — it doesn’t mean that what you saw come out today is going to be the final maps that come out. But I think you had to keep that in play until we can resolve those issues. And, ultimately, I think a court decides it.”
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