After largely lying dormant for most of this session, Texas redistricting made a reappearance today when the senate's state affairs committee's held at hearing on SB 1524 a bill by State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) that would adopt the three court-drawn interim maps as permanent.
The hearing ended up being a relatively sedate affair – although State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) drew a firm line in the sand when he told the committee that the senate's Democratic caucus was united in opposing moving forward with the bill.
If that holds, the Democratic caucus would have the votes needed under the senate's 2/3 rule to block consideration of the bill on the floor – absent procedural maneuvering by the Republican majority.
Watson told the committee that the Democratic caucus was opposed even to the possibility of taking up the state senate map on a stand alone basis.
Watson explained that's because although there is no dispute on the interim senate map, the caucus was concerned that House Republicans would amend the bill to add back the state house and congressional maps, after which only a simple majority would be required in the senate to pass the bill. Watson said that after years of redistricting battles, senate Democrats no longer felt they could trust the process.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) also expressed concerns about the process and the possibility that Republicans might try to circumvent the 2/3 rule, noting that deviations from the established and customary rules in 2011 were one of the things cited by the D.C. court as supporting a finding of discriminatory intent.
For his part, the bill's author, State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), said in his opening that he did not plan to offer or accept any amendments to the bill. But that did not seem to be the view of all of his caucus members, with Sen. Duncan expressly raising the possibility at the end of the hearing of a substitute dealing just with the state senate map.
Written comments on the bill are due to the committee by April 24 at 5 p.m.
Duncan did not say when (or if) the committee would take up the bill again, except to say he would re-open public testimony if and when a substitute had been filed.
Separately, all 55 Democrats in the state house signed a letter today to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott opposing adoption of the court-drawn interim state house and congressional maps on a permanent basis – something Abbott has been pushing.
The letter said the maps “retain many of the illegal and discriminatory features of the legislatively adopted plans” and said the members “stand united in opposition to the interim State House and congressional plans being used in any election going forward.”
The letter also called on Abbott to “formally withdraw the pending appeal of the federal district court ruling that denied preclearance to the Texas redistricting plans.”
The letter closed by saying:
If, as Texans, we believe our state can adopt fair, nondiscriminatory redistricting plans and election practices without federal review, then we should immediately demonstrate it by moving now to draw fair and nondiscriminatory plans that will easily clear any review by the Justice Department or federal courts.