Redistricting Committee Continues its Work
AUSTIN - The Senate Redistricting Committee met today, June 14, 2001, in its third hearing since the Legislature adjourned on May 28th.
Every ten years, the Legislature is to draw new district lines for the Senate, House of Representatives, State Board of Education (SBOE) and Congressional districts. By reworking the lines after each national census, the Legislature is supposed to ensure that all Texans have equal representation.
But redistricting is one of the most partisan issues to come before the Legislature, severely testing its bipartisan tradition. The Senate redistricting bill --Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 499--was approved by its Senate committee during the regular session, but did not have enough support to be brought to the floor. Since the Legislature failed to pass a bill, the task of legislative redistricting falls to the Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB).
The Senate Redistricting Committee is now trying to decide whether Congressional and SBOE districts could be drawn in a special session, or whether the courts should take over. Its goal is to draw plans that would be acceptable by the end of this month. If that happens, Governor Rick Perry could call a special session to formally debate and approve them.
Chaired by Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, the other committee members are Mike Jackson (vice-chair) of La Porte, Kenneth Armbrister of Victoria, David Cain of Dallas, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, Rodney Ellis of Houston, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Mario Gallegos of Houston, Florence Shapiro of Plano and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo.
Today's short meeting focused on the State Board of Education's new districts. Eleven of its 15 board members have approved a map. Although the committee realizes how hard it would be to get unanimous approval, Senator Duncan designed a new proposal to present to the board members, hoping to satisfy some of their concerns.
In terms of Congressional redistricting, the committee has received some input from Texas congressmen in Washington, but not as much as was expected. Some committee members think they should start their discussions based on the maps already approved by the Texas House of Representatives.
Chairman Wentworth, reminding the members of his natural optimism, told them the job could be done in two or three more meetings. The next one is scheduled for June 26th.