House Democratic Co-Leader Evan Jenne is concerned there will be limited opportunities for the public to review the district maps that will define Florida’s political landscape for the next decade.
Lawmakers are meeting for the second week ahead of the 2022 Session, when the Legislature will approve maps for 28 U.S. House districts, 40 State Senate districts and 120 State House districts. However, lawmakers are receiving a second round of overviews, with this week’s information focused on the Florida Redistricting website that went live last month.
Faced with the possibility that the redistricting process will be slow and drawn out, Jenne conceded the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the federal census process, reducing the amount of time lawmakers and the public have to mull over the decennial data. The Dania Beach Democrat called this year’s mapmaking process dangerous because of a lack of communication with the public.
The deadline for lawmakers to approve maps is March 11, the final day of the 60-day Legislative Session.
“We are going to have probably the most limited amount of community input that we’ve ever seen on these maps. To me that is wild,” Jenne said.
Public groups, like Florida Conservation Voters, have also asked lawmakers to seek public input and make the process accessible. In a letter sent to lawmakers Monday, the Fair Districts Coalition thanked legislative leaders for committing to a fair process and urged transparency.
“However, we cannot forget that the last redistricting process was touted as being ‘the most transparent’ redistricting process in Florida history, while elected officials knowingly created a shadow process,” they wrote.
This week, the Senate Reapportionment Committee meets Monday afternoon. The House Redistricting Committee meets Tuesday while the two House subcommittees meet Wednesday.
Republicans leading the redistricting committees have promised a fair process, but Democrats have not turned down opportunities to caution the majority party against impropriety, including gerrymandering.
Pointing to last decade’s redistricting process, which wasn’t completely finished until 2016 following court challenges, he was confident there would be lawsuits to the maps drawn next year.
“The Legislature has proved it knows how to muck things up enough that it can drag on in a court case for years and years and years, and redistricting is no different,” Jenne said.
However, he said he doesn’t know of “nefarious” plans to intentionally drag out the mapmaking process to limit opportunities for court challenges.
Jenne’s other concerns include ensuring there is appropriate minority access seating and that the Legislature follows the “Fair Districts” anti-gerrymandering amendment voters added to the state constitution in 2010.
“The ball is clearly in the hands of my friends on the other side of the aisle, and it’s going to be up to them to decide if they want to play this thing straight or if they want to get a little wonky with how those lines run throughout the state,” he said.