A daylong debate on redistricting maps in the Texas House drew frustration from Democrats and growing concern from Republicans on Thursday as House leaders agreed to some amendments to one of the maps.
Gov. Rick Perry called the 83rd Legislature into special session in hopes it would ratify — without changes — the interim redistricting maps that a panel of federal judges drew for use in the 2012 elections. The Texas Senate did that earlier this month. But the House deviated, adopting three amendments on the state House district map moments after gaveling in.
The chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, told members from the start that he would be accepting “small, necessary tweaks” to the maps providing they meet specific criteria — unite communities of interest, are agreeable to members of neighboring districts and are in accordance with the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
In a matter of minutes, Darby approved, and the House adopted three such amendments. Two would swap out precincts between members of neighboring House districts. A third, by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, brings all of Texas A&M International into his district.
Beyond that, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, was among a handful of members who began questioning Darby, puzzled as to why amendments were being accepted when, he said, members had been told “any change made would open the door for other problems.” He also cited the fact that the amendments hadn’t come through committee.
Darby restated his criteria, adding that the amendments he’s accepting don’t impact geography or the demographic makeup of districts. With that, more members began filing amendments. Two more, which also swap out precincts between neighboring districts, were adopted.
Three points of interest. One, not all redistricting fights fall along party lines.
“You’re a liar,” state Rep. Pat Fallon of Frisco yelled at his colleague, state Rep. Bennett Ratliff of Coppell.
Other House Republicans tried to hush Fallon, but his fury wouldn’t ebb.
“Touch your buddy Gene because you’re in the same party as him,” a red-faced Fallon loudly continued, as Ratliff walked away and placed a hand on state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, as he passed by.
Asked a few moments later what the dust-up was all about, Fallon said simply, “Forgot.”
The hollering could have stemmed from a quiet dispute brewing during the redistricting debate. On Thursday afternoon, some tea party-affiliated members of the House had been upset about an amendment that removed one of Ratliff’s primary opponents from his district. The amendment, which passed earlier in the day without much trouble, put tea party favorite Matt Rinaldi into the safely Democratic district of state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.
Temper, temper. And I must say, I too would buy a Touch Me, I’m Gene Wu’s Buddy t-shirt, too. Someone get on Cafepress.com and make this happen, OK? Oh, and as Greg says, I’d take Bennett Ratliff for my team if the Rs don’t want him, too.
Two, the ball is now in the Senate’s court.
The Senate, which is scheduled to meet Friday, still has to sign off on changes made Thursday by the House to its maps before sending the bills to Perry for his signature. Sen. Kel Seliger, the upper chamber’s redistricting chief during the special session, has said he plans to accept changes the House makes to their political boundaries.
I guess it wouldn’t have killed them to accept some cleanup amendments after all.
And three, the missing man makes an appearance:
MALC chair State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer and African-American and Hispanic members asked the AG to have someone testify at redistricting hearings. But the AG’s office ignored those requests and redistricting committee chair, State Rep. Drew Darby, said that he would not use subpoena power to require attendance.
In fact, Darby said today in response to questioning that he never even asked the AG’s office to come testify voluntarily.
All that might be logical if the AG’s office took that position that it was the office’s job to defend whatever maps emerged, not to give advice on them.
But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, Abbott’s office appears to have met with the House Republican caucus on at least two occasions, including today during an early afternoon break in floor action.
And after emerging from today’s meeting – reportedly with Abbott’s chief deputy – House Republicans seem to have experienced a major sea change in their willingness to accept even minor agreed amendments, such as one offered by State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to adjust for the fact that a mountain runs oddly through HD 77 in El Paso. Whereas before the break, redistricting chair Darby had agree to five relatively minor amendments (one of which was proposed to unite a parking lot at Texas A&M International with the school itself), afterwards he would take none.
Now, since what was said in the meeting isn’t known, it’s not clear that advice from the AG’s office caused the change. But it’s at least a little awkward – both legally and optically – that the AG’s office seems to be acting as counsel for the Republican caucus rather than the Legislature or the state as a whole.
It also seems to have left the Legislature in a precarious position legally.
Too chicken to talk to non-Republicans, I guess. Or maybe he’s just forgotten how. But at least he’s consistent. Go read the rest of that post, it’s all good.
And again, now that redistricting is done for the day, the House can be like the Senate and get to what really animates them, which is making life miserable for women.
House Bill 60 would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical clinics, and regulate how doctors administer pills for medical abortions.
HB 60 would originally have required women receiving medical abortions to take the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended dosage, which physicians have said is dangerously high. The committee substitute introduced in the hearing reduced the dosage to that recommended in obstetrician-gynecologist guidelines.
The bill’s Senate version, Senate Bill 5, passed Tuesday night after an amendment removed the 20-week ban. State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who sponsored the House legislation, has said she hopes to revive the ban in the Senate by passing HB 60.
State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, questioned Laubenberg about the justifications for the 20-week ban, which is premised upon research that suggests fetuses at 20 weeks of gestation can feel pain. Though research indicates fetuses respond to stimuli at that point of pregnancy, there is no consensus on whether they feel pain.
Farrar also asked whether HB 60 would deprive women of choice, to which Laubenberg responded, “The Legislature should err on the side of life, not death.”
Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, asked why the legislation included no exception for cases of rape or incest.
Rape is “a horrible violation to a woman,” Laubenberg said, adding that the state should focus on punishing the perpetrator but still not allow abortion if the fetus is past 20 weeks.
Matthew Braunberg, an ob-gyn from Dallas, said the legislation would needlessly limit women’s access to abortions despite what he said were decreased medical risks, compared to carrying a pregnancy to term.
“The last thing we want is for them to go to Doctor Google to figure out how to do this,” he said.
Carol Everett, an anti-abortion advocate, said the bill would help women by raising standards for abortions.
“This is a health protection for her,” she said.
I think David Dewhurst let the cat out of the bag on that, Carol. Kudos for sticking to the script regardless. Maybe someone should tell Rep. Laubenberg that if this bill passes and a bunch of clinics close because they can’t meet the needlessly onerous requirements that HB60 would impose, then an awful lot more women are going be be horribly violated, since there wouldn’t be any place for them to get an abortion before 20 weeks anyway. But hey, it’s all about protecting women, since they obviously don’t know what’s best for themselves. Besides, rape victims don’t get pregnant anyway, am I right? Pro-choice advocates are hoping to run out the clock, which has as much hope as any other strategy. Good luck gumming up the works, y’all.