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Texas Senate votes to take up redistricting again

Texas senate vote.JPG
Sophie Park
/
The Texas Tribune
The Texas Senate voted Wednesday to take up redistricting again in 2023 to ensure it meets its constitutional requirement to redraw its districts in the first regular session after receiving the decennial census numbers.

The redistricting process this year is mostly procedural and is not expected to produce very different results from the most recent process completed in 2021.

The Texas Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to again take up the decennial process of redrawing the boundaries of the state’s political districts a year and a half after the Legislature completed the process and yielded new districts. Those newly drawn districts increased the Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House and reduced the voting strength of voters of color.

The redistricting process this year is mostly procedural and is not expected to produce very different results.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she was taking the step “out of an abundance of caution” to ensure that Legislature had met its constitutional requirement to apportion districts in the first regular session after the federal census, which is done every 10 years. Because of the pandemic, census numbers were not released until after the end of the last regularly scheduled legislative session on May 31, 2021. Redistricted maps were passed in a subsequent special session that year.

Two Democratic lawmakers, Sens. Roland Gutierrez of Antonio and Sarah Eckhardt of Austin sued, saying that violated the Texas Constitution because the census numbers weren’t received until Aug. 12, 2021. That would make the current legislative session, which kicked off on Tuesday, the first regular session since the release of those numbers.

Eckhardt said the Senate’s decision to take up the issue again proves she and Gutierrez were right on the law, but she said she didn’t expect much change in the maps drawn by the state in 2021.

“I think this will be a check-the-box exercise,” she said. “I would have liked to have seen in the first go-around a substantive discussion and taking the input of constituencies into account.”

Still, she encouraged Texans to make their voices heard about how the maps should be drawn so that they fairly represent voters in the state.

Huffman, who led the redistricting committee in the 2021 legislative session and will again lead its efforts this year, said the procedure would follow similar rules to those applied last session and would create an opportunity for “regional hearings” to be held in the Capitol that will be streamed on the internet for the public across the state. The public will also have an avenue to testify in those hearings virtually. Those hearings will be held between Jan. 25 and 28.

“This resolution is designed to address the unique nature of redistricting to ensure a fair and transparent process,” Huffman said.

The Senate’s resolution applies only to senate districts, but lawyers for the attorney general’s office have said in court the process will likely need to be repeated for the House and the State Board of Education, whose districts were also redrawn last session. The process does not apply to congressional districts, however.