On May 27, the last day of the 140-day regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature, Gov. Rick Perry called a special session to begin that very day.
Perry’s only stated purpose in keeping lawmakers in Austin is for the Legislature to pass legislation that “ratifies and adopts redistricting plans ordered by the federal district court as the permanent plans for districts used to elect members of the Texas House of Representatives, Texas Senate and United States House of Representatives.”
In 2010 and 2011, various redistricting maps were in and out of federal courts over matters relating to preclearance, a requirement under Section 5 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act that subjects Texas to when new laws relating to voting are passed here, because of the state’s history of discrimination in conducting elections.
Quickly, eight redistricting bills, House Bills 1 through 4 by House Select Committee on Redistricting Chair Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, and Senate Bills 1 through 4 by Senate Select Committee on Redistricting Chair Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, were filed to address the governor’s call. Of the eight bills, HB 2 and its mirror, SB 2, relating to the composition of districts for the election of members of the Texas Senate, incited the least resistance at hearings conducted last week.
The Senate Select Committee on Redistricting met May 30. Input voiced by Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, made it clear that maps the governor wants enacted face more rounds of court challenges over the lack of minority opportunity districts and dilution of the voting strength of certain communities of interest.
West asked, in essence, if the purpose of the special session was simply to rubberstamp the federal court’s interim maps or to accept amendments to those maps that cure constituents’ voting rights concerns. Chairman Seliger said the governor’s call does not limit amendments to the redistricting bills.
The House Select Committee on Redistricting met on May 31 and on June 1. Committee member Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, expressed doubt that issues with the court-drawn maps could be resolved in the time frame contemplated by the governor. Of the citizens who testified before the committee, several said the hearings were scheduled on such short notice few potential witnesses could testify.
Chairman Darby tentatively proposed regional redistricting hearings to be held June 5 in Dallas, June 6 in Houston and June 7 in San Antonio. Reps. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, and Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, both members of the redistricting committee, indicated that their home districts also would be appropriate sites for redistricting hearings.
The House redistricting committee is composed of 12 Republicans and seven Democrats. The Senate redistricting committee is composed of nine Republicans and six Democrats.
MARCH OF NEW LAWS BEGINS
Hundreds of bills recently passed last month by the Legislature have landed on the governor’s desk, awaiting a signature of approval, but a few will not be signed, indicating approval that is not wholehearted. Some have been or will be vetoed, and it takes a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature to override a veto.
Signed and unsigned bills will become new laws, most to take effect Sept. 1. Those include:
- HB 4, intended to preserve Texas’ water supply for the next 50 years by promoting conservation and innovative reuse. Funding is tied to Senate Joint Resolution 1, a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot to use $2 billion from the state’s “rainy day fund” savings account.
- HB 2961, preventing public disclosure of the Social Security number of a school district employee or former employee.
- SB 160, requiring an election officer, on accepting a poll watcher for service, to provide the watcher with a form of identification prescribed by the secretary of state to be displayed by the watcher during the watcher’s hours of service at the polling place.
COMPTROLLER PLANS NOT TO RUN
The state’s top accountant, Comptroller Susan Combs, announced May 29 she would not seek reelection or election to any other post in 2014. First elected state comptroller in 2006, Combs is a former Texas agriculture commissioner and a former state representative.
Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, said he plans to run for comptroller in 2014, and other current lawmakers have indicated interest in the post.
Veteran legislative analyst and capital correspondent Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.