The Florida House on Tuesday moved toward the final passage of a bill to create a voter referendum that would create single-member districts in Alachua County.
The second of three readings of HB 1493 was approved despite questions on it, raised primarily by House Democrats and addressed toward Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry.
Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, asked a series of questions that tried to probe the popularity of the bill. She first asked whether or not Dixie or Gilchrist Counties had single-member districts. Clemons responded that while they do not, there have been no movements in the county to create such districts.
A similar issue was brought up when Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, asked about the number and location of single-member districts for the Gainesville City Commission. When Clemons responded that four out of seven districts in Gainesville were single-member districts, Hayes Hinson followed up with a question about how the bill will really affect the area as a whole when currently, the only single-member districts are located in Gainesville.
Clemons restated that Gilchrist and Dixie counties have not voiced any need for single-member districts – but Alachua County has. He also noted that the Alachua County Charter Review Committee had briefly considered single-member districts after receiving 80 resident requests for the proposal. It ultimately decided against putting that question to voters in 2020.
“We will put to rest any doubts that people have, and if [HB 1493] is defeated resoundingly, then the people have spoken,” Clemons told the House.
Tant also asked whether the bill would increase diversity among commissioners. Clemons answered that while there is no way to know who will be elected in the future, single-member districts have historically allowed underrepresented minority candidates to be elected.
Tant’s final question was about whether anyone in the current Alachua County or Gainesville governments supports the movement. Both are unanimously opposed, Clemons said.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, pointed out that one of the groups in opposition to the bill was the NAACP, which said its passage would diminish the ability of underrepresented minorities to be elected. He asked whether there was a way to address this issue and if the effects of single-member districts depend on the municipality in which they are located.
Clemons said Alachua County has historically had both diverse communities and a diverse commission, and that according to his research, single-member districts increase the diversity of the commission. He also said that this effect will be universal, and should not depend on the municipality.
The bill must make it to a third reading — as well as to the Senate for its approval — before the close of session on March 11.