SENATE REOPENS REDISTRICTING HEARINGS
(AUSTIN) — In order to ensure they are following the very letter of the state constitution, the chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee announced Wednesday that the panel is re-opening the process for the drawing of state Senate districts. Senator Joan Huffman of Houston chaired that committee last session when state House, Senate, school board, and US Congressional districts were redrawn as they are every ten years following the national census. Due to the COVID pandemic, however, the US census results were delayed into 2021. This pushed back the state redistricting process by some months, but the Legislature was able to pass redrawn district maps in the third called session, which fell in October of '21. All Texas state lawmakers and congressional members were elected in 2022 based on these maps.
Senator Borris Miles of Houston draws for terms as Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw looks on. Miles drew an odd number, winning him a four year term. Members who draw even numbers will serve just two years before they must stand for re-election. This happens after every post-census election, in order to stagger terms so that the entire body isn't running for election in the same cycle.
The issue arises for state districts because Article III, Section 28 of the constitution reads "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." Because the final maps were approved during a special session in the fall and not the 140-day regular session beginning in January, there is some concern that it might raise legal issues. "I am proposing that the 88th Legislature take 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." Reappointed chair of the committee by the Lt. Governor, Huffman said that the panel will begin to take public testimony, both in person and virtually, in a series of regional meetings beginning on Wednesday, January 25th and running through Saturday, January 28. "This will ensure that every Texan can participate in the regional hearings, and we can have conversations with people from all parts of the state," she said.
Also Wednesday, Senators drew lots for term length, to reset the staggering of district terms. Unlike the House, whose members must stand for election every two years, Senators serve four year terms. To avoid situations where the entire body is up for election, the Texas Senate, like the US Senate, staggers terms so that only half of the chamber's seats are up for election in any given cycle.
The exception to this rule is the election immediately following a redistricting year, as was the case in 2022. With all 31 members elected or re-elected last November, the entire body could be back on the campaign trail for the 2026 cycle. In order to re-establish the two-cycle balance, senators took turns drawing lots: in this case, 31 sequentially-numbered sheets of paper drawn out of a bowl. Drawing an odd number won a Senator a four-year term and members who drew even numbers will serve a two-year term. Because of the effort and cost involved with a campaign for office, it's a fairly high-stakes proposition that members nevertheless greet with a genial good humor.
The following members drew two-year terms and their seats will be up for election in 2024.
- Senators Alvarado of Houston, Bettencourt of Houston, Blanco of El Paso, Campbell of New Braunfels, Eckhardt of Austin, Hinojosa of McAllen, Huffman of Houston, Johnson of Dallas, King of Weatherford, LaMantia of South Padre Island, Parker of Flower Mound, Paxton of McKinney, Springer of Muenster, West of Dallas, and Whitmire of Houston.
All other Senate districts will be up for election in 2026.
The Senate will meet again in a joint session with the House Thursday, January 12, at 11 a.m. to canvass the votes from the 2022 election. They will meet in open session again on Wednesday, January 18th, one day after the inaugural ceremonies for the re-elected Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.