District lines dominate coverage of redistricting, but legislation under consideration by Florida lawmakers includes other notable features. Some have significant budget ramifications.
Lawmakers convened Tuesday for a Special Session to approve a map (P 0109) after Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the plan passed by the Legislature during the regular Session. DeSantis’ team presented its own map to the Senate and House, and the Republican-controlled chambers are expected to pass the plan.
But the map is attached to underlying legislation (SB 2-C) governing the implementation and any potential legal challenges. The Senate approved a controversial amendment Monday that would limit the venues for suing the state over redistricting.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, state court actions challenging the state’s congressional districts shall be brought only in Leon County,” the language reads.
“The precedent has been state issues are litigated in state court, which is what we want to continue,” said Sen. Ray Rodrigues, Chair of the Senate Reapportionment Committee.
Tallahassee, the state capital, lies in Leon County. So it’s likely lawsuits would be filed in that jurisdiction anyway, just like the first lawsuit filed this year asking courts to implement a map because the Governor wouldn’t accept the Legislature’s product.
But the attempt to limit challenges to state court, instead of federal court, drew critiques. Many challenges to redistricting plans around the country have been filed in federal court.
The Senate amendment mirrors language already included in the House redistricting bill (HB1-C). Rep. Dotie Joseph, a North Miami Democrat, unsuccessfully pushed in a subcommittee meeting Tuesday to have that language removed. She noted DeSantis’ objections to the map relate to a belief that the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution trumps a prohibition on diminishing minority seats that appears in Florida’s Constitution.
“It’s a federal question,” Joseph said. “Federal courts really just make sense.”
The House bill also has another noteworthy aspect regarding legal challenges. It budgets $1 million to defend Florida’s congressional map in court. Under the bill, the nonrecurring dollars would be set aside for the Department of State out of the General Fund.
The redistricting bill passed in the regular Legislative Session (SB 102), and the Senate bill has no such language now.
If the budget makes it to the final bill, the allocation becomes part of the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget, which has not yet been sent to the Governor’s desk.
The Legislature has also abandoned some provisions since the regular Session.
Most notably, the Legislature passed a controversial plan to offer both a primary map and a secondary one (H 8015). The primary map attempted to address DeSantis’ concerns about the configuration of a North Florida District spanning from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, one that the Legislature considered a protected Black-performing seat. But the backup map was offered for courts to implement if the main cartography was still deemed unacceptable.
Ultimately, DeSantis rejected that, saying “race-neutral” maps needed to be drawn. His staff produced a map the Governor signaled he can sign.
While the possibility remains that the courts will reject that plan, the Legislature to date has not attached a fallback plan.
Another abandoned concept, the House added language to the redistricting bill during Session that would have placed a 30-day timeframe in which any challenges to the map could be filed. But the bill under consideration during the Special Session includes no such provision.