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Gov. Ron DeSantis issues veto threat of congressional districts

'We will not be signing any congressional map with an unconstitutional gerrymander in it,' governor says
Gov. Ron DeSantis holds news conference in Marianna, Feb. 11, 2022
Posted at 4:06 PM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 16:06:26-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Week five is in the books as Florida's 60-day legislative session wraps its first half, but not before giving us some new conflict and controversy.

Here's a recap of what happened:

A plan to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools and businesses is ready for its first floor vote. That came after clearing a fiery final House committee Tuesday.

GOP lawmakers approved HB 7 along party lines. Democrats worried it would chill race education in the state.

"It's disgusting," said Rep. Travaris McCurdy, D-Orlando. "It is disrespectful as a Black man in this process that happens to be elected to this body — a body that makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes."

Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah, the sponsor, did amend his legislation to try and ease concerns. That was after critics said the language used to prohibit CRT was too broad.

"I want to make sure I make this very clear," Avila said. "Nothing in this bill bans the teaching of historical facts."

Avila's amendment removed the word "discomfort" from the bill and now includes provisions like the following:

"A person should not be instructed that they must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex."

Senators on Tuesday also advanced what critics call the "Don't Say Gay" bill from its first of three committee stops.

It prohibits class discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity for primary grades or "in a manner that is not age-appropriate."

Democrats again lined up in opposition, believing the bill was too vague and could harm LGBTQ youth.

Republicans approved the bill with another party-line vote, though two members requested changes.

Sen. Dennis Baxley speaks about 'Don't Say Gay' bill
Sen. Dennis Baxley shares why he believes the legislation is needed in Florida.

Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Orange Park, said she would like to improve the bill language to ensure its provisions more specifically target class curriculum and grades K-3.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, wanted to exchange a parent's right to sue non-compliant districts for a financial penalty.

Sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, said he was open to making changes as the policy advanced.

"They understand the intent and the heart of this legislation," Baxley said. "If they can make it better, I am all for a group project."

The bill banning abortions at 15 weeks is also ready for the House floor. It cleared its final committee on Thursday along party lines.

Rep. Erin Grall
Rep. Erin Grall states why she believes Florida's abortion bill is legal.

HB 5 sponsor, Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, again argued the move from 24 to 15 weeks was humane. The bill makes exceptions only for fatal fetal issues — not rape or incest.

"The state's interest in protecting unborn life is clearly compelling at 15 weeks when the child has fully taken the human form," Grall said. "There is no right to an abortion in the federal constitution or the state constitution. There is a right to life."

Democrats vowed to keep fighting the bill, now only a few steps from reaching the governor.

"This is not what my constituents want," said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton. "They want us to keep abortions safe and legal."

Finally, the governor's goal of carving up Florida's fifth congressional district, full of Black voters, was rejected by the Florida Supreme Court.

Justices said Thursday that DeSantis' request for an advisory opinion was too broad and would need more evidence.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls said Thursday evening that redistricting work would now continue in the lower chamber. He predicted members would likely keep much of the fifth intact, much like the Senate's version of congressional maps.

Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls
Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls speaks about redistricting efforts in Florida.

"We're probably not in the position to address novel legal arguments in our process," Sprowls said.

DeSantis offered a response to the court's rejection Friday afternoon. Speaking in Marianna, the governor warned he would veto any map with an "unconstitutional gerrymander."

"We will not be signing any congressional map with an unconstitutional gerrymander in it," DeSantis saud. "That is going to be the position that we stick to. Take that to the bank."