From Texas Redistricting:
The Texas Legislature is in the final stretch of its regular session (sine die on May 27), and, at this point, in the calendar, if anything gets done, it looks like it will have to start on the Senate side.
Although a couple of redistricting bills – along with some proposals for redistricting reform – got filed in the House, the House redistricting committee never met before the bill-reporting deadline to consider the bills.
A short-lived effort to take up redistricting did take place on the Senate side where the Senate state affairs committee held a hearing on April 18 to consider SB 1524, a bill by State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) to make the three interim maps permanent.
But that effort seemingly faltered when the Senate’s 12 Democrats made clear that they were opposed to the efforts and would use their voting strength in the Senate to block consideration of any bill to simply the interim maps permanent. The House’s 55 Democrats similarly signed a letter to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott urging Abbott to drop further challenges to the maps and negotiate in good faith over additional changes to maps.
While there was talk at the time of a committee substitute to SB 1524 that would address just the non- (or less-) controversial state senate map, there seems to be little movement toward that since Democrats said they worried a standalone senate-only bill would be amended on the House side to address the state house and congressional maps.
Nor has there been any indication that there are serious discussions with Democrats about changes to the interim map that would address concerns of African-American and Latino groups.
Instead, most observers are now expecting a special session on redistricting this summer.
In that scenario, the Senate’s two-thirds rule would no longer apply, and Republicans could move the bill without any Democratic support – though some Democrats have cautioned taking a ‘cramdown’ approach would merely repeat the exclusion of minority groups from the process – and the resort to unusual processes – that gave rise to findings of discriminatory intent in the prior legislative maps.
As for whether the expected special session comes in June before the date of an anticipated Shelby Co. ruling or in late June/early July post-Shelby remains to be seen, though reports are that a number of legislators are expecting a short session post-Shelby Co.
But, of course, the legislative session isn’t done yet, and it remains possible- if not the most likely – that SB 1524 could yet spring back to life.
It doesn’t necessarily follow that if there is a special session that there will be no two thirds rule in the Senate. The Senate sets its rules at the beginning of each session, and can choose to use that rule or not by a majority vote. Obviously, if the Republicans want to pass a bill, such as SB1524, without interference from the Democrats, that is what they will do. I think if there is a special session and redistricting is one of the items on the agenda for it, then it is odds on that the Senate will be majority rule only, but it is not certain to be that way. There are other possible reasons for a special session – I will note that there has been at least one special session every legislative year except 2007 since 2003, so it’s hardly an unusual prospect – but for what it’s worth the Trib’s insiders didn’t bring redistricting up as a potential catalyst. Who knows with Rick Perry? He’ll tell us when he’s damn good and ready.