Jacksonville-based Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon in the Capitol on Nov. 22, 2022. (photo by Mitch Perry)
Rule changes in the Florida House that Republicans said were just “technical updates” were opposed unanimously by Democrats this week, who claim the changes will hurt them and their constituents.
“There were just a number of changes to the bill that we do not believe were as minor as the majority party tried to convey, and so we needed to vote against them. And today really was our only opportunity to vote against them,” House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell told reporters after Tuesday’s organizational session of the Legislature.
One of those new rules targets members who engage in protest, as occurred in April when several Black Democrats shut down debate on a redistricting map that was predicted to and ultimately did reduce Black representation in Florida’s congressional delegation.
“Member conduct that causes a material disruption of official legislative business is grounds for discipline by the House,” is the line in HR 10 that is leading to consternation among Democrats.
“It’s so vague,” said Jacksonville Rep. Angie Dixon. “We don’t know what it means.”
Nixon and Orange County Rep. Travaris McCurdy led a sit-in protest for an hour during the last day of a special session on redistricting last April to protest the congressional redistricting map, which Democrats didn’t have the votes to stop.
Later that day, then-House Speaker Chris Sprowls issued a statement saying that the group had “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.”
However, none of the representatives were officially reprimanded by House leadership. The new rule indicates that won’t be the case if a similar event takes place.
“I am a little taken aback today by the fact that there’s a new rule related to myself and Rep. McCurdy’s peaceful sit-in,” Nixon says, adding that she harbors no regrets about what she did. “I’m still happy that I did that. It was an opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless, especially now since they definitely did get rid of some Black representation.”
Another new rule upsetting Democrats is the decision to eliminate the designation of a so-called “repealer” bill, with such proposed legislation now to be treated as a general bill.
That’s upsetting to Democratic lawmakers because House members are only allowed to introduce seven general bills in each legislative session. However, there are nine other types of bills that they can introduce that aren’t counted against that limit, such as local bills and claims bills.
Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani wishes she could file more than seven bills, but says she understands that there are limitations with 120 members in the House and a limited staff to draft such legislation. But she says repealer bills should not be ruled to be part of those seven bills.
“It does impact our constituent’s ability to have their voices be heard in the process because many repealer ideas come from our constituents with experience in different parts of statute and realize that this is either bad for the community or no longer relevant,” she says.
“For a member in the minority party being able to file a repealer bill is important to being able to message back home what our priorities and what we believe,” she says.
In introducing the resolution on Tuesday, Miami House Republican Daniel Perez, the Rules Committee chair, said that the House rules remain largely unchanged from the past two years, “with most of these changes before us being technical updates that clarify procedures and conform the text of this rule to standard House practices.”
The resolution passed on a party line, 83-34. Such vote margins are likely to be common over the next years in the Florida House, with Republicans holding a 50-member advantage lead over Democrats in that chamber.
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