State lawmakers eye $1 million for legal challenges against Florida redistricting plan

Anticipating legal challenges to a congressional redistricting plan proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Senate and House moved forward Tuesday with providing $1 million for litigation expenses. 

Preparing to vote Wednesday on its version of the plan (SB 2-C), the Republican-dominated Senate approved an amendment that would provide the money to the Department of State for legal expenses. 

The money also was included in the House version of the plan (HB 1C), which was approved Tuesday by the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said the money isn’t expected to be exhausted. 

"I think that’s why we picked this number, because I think it’s within the realm of what would be necessary," Stargel said. 

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The proposed map is expected to boost Republican representation in Congress for the next decade by four seats while targeting districts currently held by Black Democrats in North and Central Florida. The Senate on Tuesday also voted 24-13 to approve an amendment about where legal battles over congressional districts would play out. 

The change already was included in the House version. Under it, challenges involving the state Constitution or state law would have to be filed in state court in Leon County. 

"We want to adopt this so that we know any litigation goes to the correct court from the beginning," Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said. 

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But Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the change is designed to prevent challenges going before federal judges who "uphold the law." 

He alluded to Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, a Tallahassee-based federal judge who recently ruled that parts of a 2021 state elections' law were intended to discriminate against Black Floridians. The legislation wouldn’t prevent federal-court challenges based on issues involving the U.S. Constitution and federal law. 

The House is scheduled to debate its version of the bill Wednesday and vote on Thursday.