TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — During the three-day special legislative session for redrawing Florida’s congressional districts, and now also removing Disney’s special tax status, an amendment to the map bill includes $1 million to fund litigation costs when the new districts are challenged.
The special session started on April 19, and from the beginning has been mired in heated political debate. During the main legislative session of 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the versions offered to him by lawmakers, and during the process provided his own potential versions of the new maps.
Announcing a special session to address reapportionment, where Florida gained a congressional seat due to its rapidly growing population, DeSantis said he would approve a map that he believed would be more suited to fitting the requirements of the 14th Amendment.
Critics of the DeSantis-recommended maps say it would “dilute” the political voices of Florida’s Black voters. Now in the special session, leaders of both the Florida House and Florida Senate have chosen to not draw any new versions of congressional redistricting maps, instead deferring to the governor’s preference.
Based on amendments to the congressional map bill currently waiting next steps in the special session, Senate Bill 2C, challenges to the new maps’ legality are expected, leading to the appropriation of $1 million from the state’s General Revenue Fund to cover “any litigation expenses relating to legal challenges pertaining to the establishment of congressional districts for the State of Florida.”
The amendment was introduced by Lakeland Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Republican and Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It’s not the only amendment added to the bill before it heads to a broader debate in the state senate.
Another, introduced by Fort Myers Sen. Ray Wesley Rodrigues (R), creates limits on where legal contests to the redistricting maps may be issued.
Specifically, the amendment filed to SB 2C makes it so challenges to the state’s congressional districts “on state constitutional or state law grounds shall be brought exclusively in state court.”
Additionally, a state court challenge to the maps that “may raise any state constitutional or state law claims, and any federal constitutional or federal law claims, regarding the state’s congressional districts that are within the jurisdiction of the circuit court.”
Finally, the amendment says nothing in the amendment shall be taken as to “preclude federal courts from deciding actions challenging the state’s congressional districts on federal constitutional or federal law grounds.”
Essentially, the amendment limits challenges to the new, new redistricting maps to state courts and state constitutional challenges, concerning issues of Florida-focused rights of its residents. However, the final section of the amendment makes it so that the bill does not prevent challenges in federal court, focused on federal law or the U.S. Constitution’s provisions.
Written in this way, and paired with the $1 million appropriation for legal contests, the amendments gear up the state for legal contests in multiple courts and on multiple legal fronts, splitting challenges between state and federal courts.