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Florida House Democrats hold protest against new congressional map during special session

Photos and videos on social media showed Democrats gathering on the chamber floor holding signs, chanting and giving speeches in protest.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Amid protests from Florida House Democrats on the chamber floor Thursday in Tallahassee, Republican lawmakers rushed to approve both a new congressional map and a bill to eliminate a handful of special tax districts, including one affecting Walt Disney World.

Both special session bills were set to be discussed in the GOP-majority House, but discussions came to a head during an "informal recess."

Politico Florida Bureau Chief Matt Dixon was the first to note the sit-in of sorts by Democratic representatives where photos and videos on social media showed them gathering on the chamber floor holding signs, chanting and giving speeches.

"Draw some constitutional maps. Those are our demands and we will not be moved," one representative could be heard saying. 

Rep. Dianne Hart was among those who went live from the chamber floor, essentially interviewing other representatives about Thursday's events. In the video, Hart called the situation at hand "insane" as she walked around the chamber floor adding, "We're here to stay."

Hart also claimed Gov. Ron DeSantis' approach to the congressional maps is about: "I want you to give me what I want."

Rep. Anna Eskamani also went live from the floor, giving a behind-the-scenes look at Democrats' effort to take a stance "against the Governor's unconstitutional maps that erase black representation."

On Twitter, Rep. Carlos G. Smith called the protest and sit-in by House Democrats as being "up to good and necessary trouble!"

Republican Rep. Spencer Roach commented on Twitter about the apparent protest, calling it an insurrection. 

"House Democrats are staging an insurrection on the House floor to obstruct the democratic process. Shameful," he wrote.

"As is obvious, we have members who've decided they wanted to hijack our process today. It is my belief and your belief that no member of this chamber has the opportunity to shut down our process, to shut down a job that the people of the public and the people of Florida have asked us to do. We will be concluding our business today," Speaker Chris Sprowls said as all members reconvened.

Amid Sprowls comments yelling and chanting could be heard echoing through the chamber. Cheers erupted in conflict with the "No's!" being yelled from the back of the chamber as the congressional map bill passed. 

Representatives on both sides of the aisle were in special session to sign off on the new congressional map that, if signed by Gov. DeSantis, would alter the districts of two Black U.S. House members  — Reps. Al Lawson and Sheila Cherfilus McCormick. 

Around Tampa Bay, at least two districts would be redrawn under the map the governor is expected to sign. It would expand District 12 and move some voters from District 13 in Pinellas County to District 14 in Hillsborough County.

This map is expected to give Republicans more Florida seats than the maps previously approved by the House and Senate during the regular legislative session.

Lawmakers also entered the special session to consider a bill to dissolve any independent special district established by a "special act" prior to the ratification of the Florida Constitution on Nov. 5, 1968, and has not been reestablished, re-ratified, or reconstituted since.

If signed into law, said independent special districts would be dissolved by June 1, 2023. Any independent special district dissolved would be the ability to be reestablished at a later date "pursuant to the requirements and limitations of this chapter."

That would impact Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District, which pundits have argued is being targeted as part of the fallout between Disney and DeSantis over the Parental Rights in Education law that's been dubbed by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

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