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Democrats Call for More Public Input on Redistricting

The anti-gerrymandering group RepresentUS handed out pizza slices Monday in the Capitol courtyard.
Jim Turner
News Service of Florida
The anti-gerrymandering group RepresentUS handed out pizza slices Monday in the Capitol courtyard.

Democratic lawmakers said more public input — beyond people making limited comments at committee meetings and proposing maps — is needed in the once-a-decade redistricting process.

During an online news conference Monday, leading Democrats on House redistricting panels discussed holding online workshops or allowing online input from people across the state during committee meetings. House and Senate Republican redistricting leaders said recently they were awaiting a decision about whether to hold online workshops.

“We have no idea what the people are going to say, given an opportunity,” said Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat who is the party’s ranking member on the House Redistricting Committee. “That's why we need to give them the opportunity, so we can find out what they have to say. There's no reason not to do this. It is my hope that they (Republican leaders) will yet see the light and that they will allow the public voice.”

Rep. Dan Daley, a Coral Springs Democrat who is the ranking member on the House State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee, questioned how open the redistricting process is going to be.

“Heck, we even scheduled the (subcommittee) meetings at the same time,” Daley said. “So, you can't tell me from one side of your face that you support open and transparent processes and then schedule meetings at the same time so Floridians can actively participate.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature has set up a website for the public to propose new boundary lines for state House and Senate and congressional districts that take into account Florida’s population growth over the past decade. The new maps, which will take effect for the 2022 elections, will include one additional U.S. House district.

Legislative leaders have said they will not hold in-person meetings across the state to gather public testimony. They have pointed, at least in part, to a shortened timeline to complete the new maps because the COVID-19 pandemic delayed U.S. Census data.

The Senate Reapportionment Committee isn’t expected to meet again until the 2022 session begins in January, while its subcommittees have been charged with advancing new maps over the next two months. The Senate subcommittees are not scheduled to meet this week, as lawmakers return to the Capitol to prepare for the session.

Maps must be finalized before qualifying for next year’s congressional and legislative races begins June 13.

The House Redistricting Committee will receive a presentation about redistricting law on Tuesday, with the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee and the House State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee separately getting similar presentations on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Monday, a traveling food truck from the anti-gerrymandering group RepresentUs was in the Capitol courtyard distributing slices of pizza, with the first few cut into random shapes to raise awareness about redistricting.

“We are showing how politicians slice up districts to their own advantage, so they can get a larger piece of the pie,” Joe Kabourek, a spokesman for Florence, Mass.-based RepresentUs, said.

Jim Turner - News Service of Florida