Redistricting heats up in Texas as 82nd session nears its end

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May 13, 2011

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By Jimmy Ardis

AUSTIN, Texas: As the 82nd Legislative Session nears its May 30th end date in Texas, the redistricting process is finally gaining momentum. Redistricting got off to a slow start in Texas this cycle, but things are speeding up as legislators have to get all proposed maps passed by both the House and Senate before the end of the session at the end of May. If they fail to pass the maps before the session ends, the Legislative Redistricting Board (comprised of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, land commissioner, comptroller, and attorney general) steps in and takes over, developing maps of their own.

The most recent wave of Texas redistricting action occurred two weeks ago when the House passed a new map of its 150 political districts. The map, which critics claim does not give enough representation to minority voters, is likely bound for the courts. The House approved a map for the 15-member State Board of the Education (SBOE) last week. The vote was 80-61. The map passed the Senate last Friday and is now on its way to be signed into law by Governor Rick Perry. The map's opponents claim that minorities do not receive enough representation - a common theme in Texas redistricting. House Redistricting Committee Chairman Burt Solomons (R) quipped “You can’t please everybody” in response. Observers on both sides of the political divide agree the map will be challenged in court.[1]

The Texas State Senate caused a stir on Wednesday by releasing a proposed map of its 31 districts. As with all of the other maps that have surfaced during this redistricting cycle, Democrats immediately criticized the Senate map for underrepresenting minorities. Perhaps even more unpopular was the redrawing of existing districts, which would dilute the power of some incumbents and pit others against each other in the next election. Travis County, which includes the capital city of Austin, goes from being divided by two Senate districts to four. Following the predictable litigation trend, the maps' opponents say they are heading for the courts.[2]

Finally, a third redistricting lawsuit has been filed in Texas. Representative Harold Dutton (D) of Houston filed a suit in federal court against the state of Texas on Monday May 9th arguing that prisoners should be counted in their homes of residence for redistricting purposes. They are currently counted in the locations of their incarceration. The Houston Chronicle reports that "Dutton said some rural counties are awarded more population than they deserve using current prisoner population counting methods. Urban counties, meanwhile, should be able to report higher population counts, he said. Dutton said the way the state counts prisoners violates rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution."[3]

There are less than three weeks left and a lot of work to be done, so a great deal of activity is expected out of the Texas Legislature in the coming days. While the specifics of the pending maps can't be pinned down with much certainty at the moment, one thing is certain -- almost all of Texas's redistricting efforts will end up before a judge before it's all said and done.

See also