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Texas Senate relaunches redistricting hearings but changes to maps are unlikely

Voting district maps on the desks of legislators, as part of redistricting efforts in the Senate, at the Texas State Senate on the opening day of the third Special Session of the 87th Legislative Session at the Texas State Capitol on Sep. 20, 2021. Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Voting district maps on the desks of legislators, as part of redistricting efforts in the Senate, at the Texas State Senate on the opening day of the third Special Session of the 87th Legislative Session at the Texas State Capitol on Sep. 20, 2021. Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

The Texas Legislature is required to approve changes to political boundaries during the first regular session after census data is released. But the coronavirus pandemic led lawmakers to pass their latest maps in the offseason.

A panel of Texas senators will hold hearings this week on the state’s latest voting district maps.

But the procedural move is unlikely to yield any changes to the political boundaries adopted in 2021, said Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

“But here we are. We are going to go forward and expect the same outcome,” Alvarado said, pointing out that if the lawmakers adopt new maps every senator would have to run for reelection in two years.

Starting Wednesday and continuing through the weekend, the Senate Special Committee on Redistricting’s six hearings will focus on the map defining state Senate districts.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, recently said the Senate had to fulfill a constitutional duty of re-adopting the maps.

“I’m proposing that the 88th Legislature takes up the Senate map again … out of an abundance of caution to ensure that the Legislature has fulfilled its duty to apportion the state into senatorial districts at its first regular session after the publication of the 24th decennial Census of the United States,” Huffman said from the Senate Floor on Jan. 11.

The Texas Constitution establishes that: “The Legislature shall, at its first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census, apportion the state into senatorial and representative districts.”

Usually, that isn’t a problem for Texas lawmakers. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau didn’t release the data Texas needed for redistricting until August 2021 — months after the end of the regular session of the state Legislature.

Texas lawmakers approved new maps in a special session, and those districts were used during the 2022 election cycle.

Alvarado told The Texas Newsroom on Monday that Democrats had warned the Republican majority to not pass the maps during a special session.

“We kept saying ‘You can’t do it in a special (session). It clearly says it here in the Constitution,’” said the Houston Democrat.

Huffman, the chair of the Senate redistricting panel, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The maps approved by the Texas Legislature in 2021 have been engulfed in controversy.

A duo of Democratic lawmakers and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus sued the state alleging the legislative maps violated the Texas Constitution because it split counties that otherwise were supposed to stay whole.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice challenged the maps claiming they discriminate against Latino voters and other minority groups.

Alvarado said Democrats plan to present amendments to the current maps, similar to the amendments they pushed during the 2021 redistricting process.

“We tried to present amendments that reflect the growth of Texas,” Alvarado said. “Ninety-five percent of the growth in Texas was based on ethnic growth but yet we saw some diluting of that in the maps.”
Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán reports on Texas politics and government for The Texas Newsroom.