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Florida lawmakers cave to DeSantis on redistricting and will defer to him with new map

<i>Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service/Getty Images</i><br/>Last month
Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
Last month

By Steve Contorno, CNN

Republican legislative leaders in Florida have given up trying to draw new congressional boundaries that can win Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ signature and, in an unprecedented move, announced Monday that they intend to essentially cede this constitutional power to the executive branch.

In a joint statement, state House Speaker Chris Sprowls and state Senate President Wilton Simpson said legislative staff will not draft a new map for lawmakers to consider when they convene in Tallahassee next week for a special session on redistricting. Instead, the legislative leaders announced they intend to let DeSantis decide how to reapportion the state’s 28 congressional districts for the next decade.

“We are awaiting a communication from the governor’s office with a map that he will support,” they said.

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, DeSantis vetoed the new district boundaries approved by lawmakers — a rare public display of contention between the governor and a state legislature controlled entirely by his own party. DeSantis has demanded the legislature join his fight to eliminate two districts where Black residents are a plurality.

For months, Republican lawmakers appeared ready to defy DeSantis, passing a map even after he threatened to veto it. House and Senate map drawers defended their maps as constitutional and insisted the governor was leading lawmakers toward a court fight with specious legal footing.

But Monday’s announcement signals Republican lawmakers are no longer willing to stand up to their party’s most popular elected figure, despite the Florida constitution giving the state legislature redistricting authority.

“Like other general bills, the governor has a role in establishing congressional districts of the state,” the joint statement from Sprowls and Simpson said. “Therefore, our goal during the special session is to pass a new congressional map that will both earn the Governor’s signature and withstand legal scrutiny, if challenged.”

Florida is one of three states yet to finalize a new map, a process required every 10 years after the US Census determines how many representatives to award each state. Florida received an additional representative after another decade of massive population growth.

Lawmakers had hoped there would be few fireworks during the redistricting debate after spending half of last decade in court over its maps. However, that ended after DeSantis took the unusual step of proposing his own congressional map that was far more partisan than the ones moving through the state House and Senate at the time.

DeSantis has recently said he expects a legal battle if he gets his way. His own map proposal eliminated two House districts — the 5th and the 10th — represented by Black Democrats. It was critiqued by opponents as a clear violation of a state constitutional amendment known as Fair Districts, which requires lawmakers to give minority communities an opportunity to “elect representatives of their choice.”

Given the conservative makeup of the state Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court, Democrats worry DeSantis’ effort could unravel the state’s Fair Districts amendment, approved by voters in a ballot referendum last decade to reduce political influence in the map-drawing process, and perhaps further erode the federal Voting Rights Act.

The legislative session begins April 19 and will last no later than April 22.

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