Black caucus members and Democrats in the state House chamber shut down debate on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional map on April 21, 2022. House Speaker Chris Sprowls returned to the chamber and lawmakers pushed through the special session bills. Credit: Michael Moline.
The Florida House, operating through a protest led by Black Caucus members, pushed through approval of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to redraw Florida’s congressional districts on Thursday.
After abandoning the chamber for a little more than an hour, Speaker Chris Sprowls and his fellow Republicans returned and called the vote on the DeSantis map, which eliminates Black “access” seats in North and Central Florida, cutting Black Democratic representation in half.
The vote was 68-38. The Senate had already approved the plan, which likely will govern this year’s midterm elections, although a lawsuit pending in federal court in Tallahassee asks three judges to design new districts.
In quick order, the leadership used the same tactic to approve two bills targeting The Walt Disney Co., which spoke out against the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” also known as the “Don’t Say Gay,” law that DeSantis signed earlier this spring.
That law restricts classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools — in grades K-3 but also in higher grades in some circumstances.
The Legislature sent all three bills to DeSantis’ office later that afternoon, his office announced.
Throughout the rushed votes, Reps. Travaris McCurdy of Orange County, Angie Nixon of Duval, and Felicia Robinson of Miami-Dade sat on the floor in the well of the chamber, right on top of the House seal woven into the carpet, and chanted slogans. Other Democrats joined in from their seats.
Yvette Hinson, who represents parts of Alachua and Marion counties, stood next to the three.
Having passed the three bills, Sprowls adjourned the House, slamming down his gavel with a resounding whack. Shortly later, the lights in the chamber went out.
The result was a decisive win for DeSantis, who insisted that U.S. Supreme Court rulings disfavoring consideration of race in drawing political districts. If an ugly one. There was no immediate word from the governor’s office.
Sprowls issued a written statement.
“Today a group of representatives decided to hijack the legislative process, violating House Rules and interfering with the rights of their fellow elected colleagues to debate important legislation before the body,” he said.
“We saw a group of Florida House members with microphones at their desk, a statewide audience, and an opportunity to vote on behalf of their constituents, and they instead chose to pretend they had to stage a protest to be heard.
“House Democrats requested and agreed to 75 minutes of debate time on congressional maps, and they used the entire time. They did not request any additional time prior to the group’s disruption.
“After offering multiple opportunities to debate the bills in an orderly way, we carried on and completed our constitutional duty to pass a congressional map. Ultimately, this group tried to drown out the voices of the other elected representatives and the 22 million Floridians they represent.”
Ellen Freidin, CEO of FairDistricts Now, which led the citizens’ initiative behind the amendments, issued a statement of her own.
“Under unthinkable pressure from the governor, the Legislature has passed what is probably the most intentionally partisan and racist congressional map in the history of Florida. It completely violates the Florida Constitution’s FairDistricts provisions. Apparently these Tallahassee politicians think that if they do not like the rules, they can simply ignore them,” Freiden said.
“This is not the way a democracy should operate. Shame on those who drafted, submitted and voted for the map. We have great trust and hope that the courts will not allow this intentional discrimination to stand and will apply the FairDistricts standards as 63 percent of Floridians intended them to.”
Before the protest broke out, Democrats compared the DeSantis plan to Jim Crow-era laws limiting Black voting rights. Republicans called it a reasonable response to constitutional questions about race’s role in drawing political boundaries.
The new map creates 20 districts likely to vote Republican and eight for Democrats. It splits Blacks in Duval along the St. Johns River into two GOP-leaning districts and eliminates a Black “opportunity” district in Orange County. In opportunity districts a minority group wields enough strength to heavily influence the outcome.
Congresswoman Val Demings represents that area now.
The map provides four Hispanic-leaning districts in South Florida.
The vote was 73-38 on legislation (HB 3-C), sunsetting any special district created before the adoption of the Florida Constitution of 1968 effective on June 1, 2023, unless the Legislature has reauthorized them since then.
That bill’s targets include the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which the Legislature approved in 1967 to give The Walt Disney Co. control over the 25,000 acres it owns in Central Florida. That bill cleared the Senate on Wednesday.
HB 5-C, repealing an exemption for Disney connected to last year’s law cracking down on social media over their alleged deplatforming of conservatives, passed on a 70-38 vote.
DeSantis added the Disney bills to the special session on Tuesday, the very day it opened.
“Here’s what I can tell you: In the state of Florida, we are not going to allow them to inject transgenderism into kindergarten,” DeSantis told cheering supporters in March.
“And I can tell you this: The chance that I am going to back down from my commitment to parents’ rights simply because of fraudulent media narratives or pressure from woke corporations — the chance of that are zero.”
Note: This story has been updated to include quotes from Speaker Sprowls and Ellen Freiden of FairDistricts Now, and to note that the Legislature has sent the three bills to the governor.
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