For the first time, someone says out loud the rumor of a special session on redistricting.
Attorney General Greg Abbott let House members know in the Republican caucus meeting on Tuesday that he expects and is hoping for a special session on redistricting — sooner than later.
Several lawmakers in the meeting confirmed that Abbott was hoping the governor will call a special session very shortly after the regular one ends on May 27.
“Don’t pack your bags on May 28,” several members quoted him saying.
Everything is kind of on hold until the Supreme Court rules on whether the pre-clearance requirements, mostly imposed on Southern states with a history of discrimination, is even legal. That is likely to come next month.
In the meanwhile, Abbott would very much like to codify the maps tweaked by the courts, giving him strength if he needs to return to court to defend the districts.
If Perry does call a special session, he’s likely hoping it will be swift and sure because the maps are already in place. While there is certain to be a minority push for better representation, the truth is everyone in the Legislature got there last November running in those districts.
With a filing deadline for offices coming in early December, the Legislature would have to get the maps to the court by late August to give adequate time for review, Li said. That’s cutting it pretty close.
More likely in June. But there’s also another deadline looming: Perry is expected to become a grandfather for the first time around June 20. Bets are he won’t want to be dealing with a special session when he’s got something more special going on.
See here, here, and here for some background. “Expects” and “is hoping for” are two different things, so it’s still not clear if this means anything more than rumor, albeit a better-sourced rumor. It still doesn’t really mean anything until we hear Rick Perry say it. And Perry still isn’t talking, though just about everybody else is.
“I think a special session is pretty much certain,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “The reason is that the attorney general wants the Legislature to approve the maps the courts have drawn for redistricting. There are a number of people (Democrats) who won’t vote for that. (The Republicans) don’t have the votes to get it through in the regular session, but they can push it through during a special session.”
During the regular session, Senate Democrats can block legislation under the so-called two-thirds rule, which requires 21 votes to bring up a bill for debate. That rule doesn’t apply during special sessions.
State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who chaired the Senate’s redistricting committee two years ago, acknowledged that redistricting might be the focus of a special session.
“Even though no one has uttered a word to me about it,” he said, “we all know that’s out there.”
In the House, state Rep. Dan Branch, a Republican from Dallas and member of House Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team, called a special session on redistricting a “real possibility.”
State Rep. Drew Darby, R- San Angelo and chairman of the House Redistricting committee, said his staff is looking into what would be involved if a special session on redistricting is called.
“We stand ready. We are preparing for any eventuality,” Darby said.
For all the speculation about a special session, the governor’s office has remained quiet on the issue. And only the governor has the power to call one and to put items on its agenda. Josh Havens, a Perry spokesman, said it’s premature to talk about a special session.
Once again, the mere fact of a special session doesn’t mean the two thirds rule is not in play. The Senate sets its rules at the start of each session, and it can choose by majority vote whether or not to adhere to that rule. I’d expect that they would choose not to, but my point again is that it is a choice, not a default.
The reasons for having a special session now remain unclear, at least to me. Dems want to wait till SCOTUS rules on Section 5, while Abbott is talking about how having the interim maps be codified by the Lege would make his position in court stronger. That sounds like both of them have some expectation that Section 5 will survive, though it should be noted that there were Section 2 violations found in the original maps as well, so regardless of what SCOTUS says there likely will be some ongoing litigation. We know that most of the plaintiffs are not willing to settle for the interim maps, though the fact that everyone in the Lege was elected under those maps, nearly all more comfortably than in 2008, might complicate things a bit. I’m still not sure that everyone has thought all of this through, and I’m not sure it’s even possible to do that coherently. At this point, I have no idea what to expect.