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Drew Darby

Redistricting trial update: Invoking privilege

Interesting choice.

Texas’ defense of its electoral maps suffered a setback Friday when a state witness couldn’t defend lawmakers’ intentions for much of his testimony.

[…]

Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, was the chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting in 2013. He invoked legislative privilege for more than 20 minutes Friday during the plaintiffs’ cross-examination.

Legislative privilege, according to the Texas Constitution, protects lawmakers from having to explain their decision process. It prevents them from being called into court to explain every law they pass. But it is used with caution because once invoked, a lawmaker can’t choose to answer any questions on the legislative process.

Nina Perales, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents a group of Latino lawmakers in the case, asked whether Darby evaluated amendments to the congressional maps based on racial polarization and whether the maps complied with the federal Voting Rights Act.

She asked whether he analyzed the gains of Latino voting power in certain districts and whether court rulings that previously found discriminatory issues with the maps influenced changes made during the 2013 special session. Perales also posed a question about whether an incumbent had proposed changes to his district to preserve his seat.

But because Darby had invoked legislative privilege and could not testify, it effectively ceded ground to Perales, who laid out her argument unchallenged through her line of questioning.

“The fact that he doesn’t testify about his reasons means that the state has no evidence to counter our evidence,” Perales told The Dallas Morning News.

Like I said, interesting choice. This isn’t a criminal case, and there’s no jury, so I presume the judges are free to draw whatever inferences they want from this.

There was more to the state’s defense than that. Both that story and the Trib have those details.

Throughout the week, lawyers representing plaintiffs have offered several alternative House and congressional maps, which they say demonstrate ways to add more opportunity districts and fix violations judges have flagged in past rulings. (The maps were not aimed at maximizing minority representation in Texas, but rather to meet legal standards.)

John Alford, a political science professor at Rice University who the state offered as an expert witness, dismissed those maps as not addressing the problem that the plantiffs claim exist.

“It’s not possible to create an additional majority-minority district in Texas,” Alford said.

[…]

“I don’t think there’s ever been a more exhaustive attempt to redraw a map, than the one here in Texas,” Alford testified.

The state on Friday sought to poke holes in the maps offered by plaintiffs, which rely partly on “coalition” districts where Hispanic and black voters, only in the majority when combined, could elect candidates of their choice — at least in general elections when they overwhelmingly favor Democrats.

Alford, the state’s expert, criticized the plaintiffs’ demonstrated coalition districts, arguing — largely relying on past Democratic primary election results — that Hispanic and black voters in various districts vote differently, preferring candidates of their own race. He underplayed general election data and testimony from voters, which the plaintiffs point to suggest the minority voting groups clearly coalesce around Democrats following primaries.

In that sense, Alford testified, the maps plaintiffs offered would not address Hispanic voters’ statewide underrepresentation.

Lawyers’ for the plaintiffs criticized the minimal value Alford put on general election data, and they highlighted one instance — an even split in black and Hispanic support for U.S. Rep. Mark Veasey, D-Fort Worth, in his 2014 primary win — that did not fit within Alford’s analysis.

The trial is scheduled to wrap up on Saturday. [US Rep. Will] Hurd is expected to testify, and the judges are also expected to pepper lawyers with a lengthy set of lingering questions.

The judges have forty-five questions for the lawyers, which, wow. Alford has been the state’s go-to expert on redistricting for years; he was their expert witness for all of the litigation that followed the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003. Seems to me a claim that you can’t create another majority-minority district in Texas is ludicrous on its face, but that’s for the judges to decide.

House passes school finance reform bill

Well done.

Rep. Dan Huberty

State Rep. Dan Huberty succeeded at a difficult task Wednesday: getting the Texas House of Representatives to vote for legislation overhauling the funding system for public education, without a court mandate.

After a four-hour discussion of more than 30 proposed amendments, the House voted 134-16 to tentatively accept its top education leader’s plan to inject $1.6 billion into public schools, simplify the complex formulas for allocating that money, and target certain disadvantaged student groups for more funding. The bill must still be approved on a third and final reading in the House.

[…]

The tentative victory comes after senators approved a budget that cuts state funding for public schools by $1.8 billion in general revenue, and uses local property tax revenue to make up the difference.

Huberty’s bill would increase the base per-student funding the state gives to school districts, in part by increasing funding for students who are bilingual and dyslexic. The Legislative Budget Board estimates about 96 percent of districts and 98 percent of students would see more money under the bill.

“This is the first time in over 30 years that we have the opportunity to vote for school finance, to make a holistic change,” Huberty said before Wednesday’s vote.

Throughout the evening, Huberty successfully moved to table many of his colleagues’ proposed amendments to the bill, either because they would add to the bill’s price tag or because he deemed them irrelevant to his legislation.

“This is the school finance bill,” he reminded Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who unsuccessfully tried to attach a provision to HB 21 that addressed the testing and accountability system.

The House budget allowance for this bill would provide more funding to more school districts for busing, but many legislators expressed concern that the money would be stretched thin because districts that didn’t provide bus service would still receive transportation money. None of the amendments to address transportation funding passed.

Rural legislators banded together to add a provision that would help hundreds of small districts with fewer than 1,600 students. The provision, proposed by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, would remove an existing financial penalty for school districts smaller than 300 square miles, which was originally intended to encourage them to consolidate.

Darby proposed putting all districts with fewer than 1,600 students at similar levels of funding, which he said would increase funding for more than 400 districts.

“Almost half the school districts in Texas will benefit from these amendments,” he said.

Legislators voted 86-59 to approve Darby’s amendment, despite Huberty’s opposition.

See here for the background. The Darby amendment was about Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction, for which you can get some background here. Getting something through the House is a big accomplishment; as the story notes, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock declined to put a bill forward in 2015 on the grounds that it didn’t stand a chance. Priorities are shifting, and there seems to be a lot of support for finally addressing some of the serious shortcomings in the current system. Which, if it happens, would vindicate the Supreme Court’s decision to not force the issue but leave it up to the Legislature. Assuming that Dan Patrick and the Senate – and Greg Abbott – go along, of course, That’s far from a sure thing, as a brief perusal of the Senate’s budget proposal would show. But it’s a start, and it could happen. That’s more than what we’ve had in a long time. Kudos all around.

Compromise property tax appraisal bill signed

It’s better than nothing, though not by that much.

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill that partially closes a loophole that allowed a powerful oil company to take back millions in tax dollars from Houston-area school districts while draining hundreds of millions more from local government coffers.

The measure that won final approval, HB 2083, from the Republican-controlled Legislature doesn’t go nearly as far in reforming the law as the Legislative Budget Board wanted. The board noted earlier this year that the law is costing the state $70 million to $80 million a year because Texas has to help maintain a certain level of funding at school districts, which are having to repay companies winning court cases based on a 1997 amendment to the state’s tax law.

When the measure takes effect in January next year, though, companies for the first time will be forced to use generally accepted appraisal methods in court cases challenging assessed values under the 18-year-old “equal and uniform” clause of the tax law.

The bill was pushed by county appraisal districts, who complained that often questionable methods were being used during tax appeals to arrive at appraisal values, said Charles Gilliland, a research economist at Texas A&M’s Real Estate Center at College Station.

“I think it will have some effect on it. How much … depends on how much unconscionable activity has been going on,” Gilliland said.

The new standard could give an advantage to appraisal districts, he said. “If they see the numbers being cooked, it gives them ammunition to raise that issue without going to district court,” Gilliland said.

The tax code section at issue gained attention after the Valero oil company forced the Port Arthur school district to refund about $30 million in taxes and other fees, and the Texas City school district about $5 million.

“I think the law was so bad that anything they could do was an improvement,” said Harris County chief appraiser Sands Stiefer, whose county school districts lost $685 million from 2011 to 2014 because of the loophole.

Stiefer, who took part in negotiations over the bill, said the measure leaves much to be desired. He said the issue will be revisited next legislative session. “We would like to see more done,” he said.

See here for the background, and here for a reminder of just how badly the current system is rigged. This bill will help a little, and that’s a good thing. Real Value$ for Texas calls it a “step forward”. I would agree with that and I appreciate the hard work they did to get that step forward taken. My concern is that now that we have taken this step, the perception in Austin will be that the problem is solved, and there will be no appetite to do anything further. I hope I’m wrong and that this is indeed just a first step. Be that as it may, I’m glad to see us get this far. It will make things a little fairer, and that’s never bad news.

Bill to ban anti-fracking ordinances likely to go forward

Disappointing.

Despite vociferous opposition from local elected officials, environmentalists and citizens, many Democrats in the Texas Legislature are supporting controversial legislation that would strip local governments of the power to regulate or ban fracking.

House Bill 40, by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), is one of 11 measures in the Legislature filed in response to a fracking ban approved by Denton voters in November. Darby’s bill, which was temporarily delayed on Tuesday, would overturn Denton’s fracking ban, Dallas’ de facto prohibition on drilling and other cities’ oil and gas regulations, possibly even rules about the distance between rigs and homes not deemed “reasonable.”

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a progressive Democrat and the longest-serving woman legislator in the House, is one of eight Democrats sponsoring the legislation.

“I think that fracking is a safe mechanism, which they can use to be able to extract oil,” she said. Asked about the practical impact of the bill and whether it would allow oil and gas companies to challenge ordinances they don’t deem “reasonable,” Thompson said, “You’re asking me a legal question and I haven’t had oil and gas law since I was in law school.”

Most of the Democrats who signed onto HB 40 are from areas that don’t contend with the hazards of urban drilling: earthquakes, noise, pipelines through yards and air and water pollution. None are from North Texas, where drilling rigs and other oil-and-gas infrastructure often sits uncomfortably close to homes, churches and businesses.

“The cities are the ones who are truly affected and we’re taking that out of their hands and saying that we’re going to be the ones doing it?” said Rep. Nicole Collier, a Democrat from Fort Worth who plans to vote against HB 40. “They’re the ones who have to answer every day and we’re taking that out of their hands.”

Floor discussion of HB40 was delayed till Friday due to a point of order. The bill is now a substitute version that was agreed upon by the Texas Municipal League, which had initially opposed it, and the Texas Oil and Gas Association. Here’s the TML’s guide to the updated HB40, which they say addressed their larger concerns about pre-empting city ordinances. I appreciate their efforts and I can see where they’re coming from – it was highly likely that some kind of bill of this nature was going to pass, so they did what they could to mitigate it – but I’m more in line with RG Ratcliffe.

The core argument against bans such as the one in Denton is that they take away the property rights of the drillers, the people and companies that buy or lease land to exploit it for mineral production; i.e., frack it for gas. But what about the property rights of people driven out of their homes because of a potential explosion, or who have the value of their homes driven down by a nearby well? And, ultimately, what about the hypocrisy of attacking local control? The state of Texas has been fighting against the federal government over unwanted laws and regulations, so is the Legislature going to grind down local voters in a similar fashion? Denton and Arlington are not cities filled with tree-hugging environmentalists; they typically vote about 60 percent Republican.

[…]

On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to the oil industry’s desire to drill on land it has owned or leased, but isn’t it also a “taking” if a homeowner cannot sell a house or loses value on a home because of its proximity to an oil or gas well? These are not wells down a caliche road a quarter-mile from a farm house. These are wells in residential neighborhoods. It looks like the legislative leadership is putting jingoism and campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry ahead of the very real concerns of Texas voters and communities.

Well, we know whose takings are more important. Like I said, I can see TML’s rationale. They saw how the wind was blowing and they did what they could to make the best of a bad situation. You don’t have to like what they agreed to, but it was a respectable effort. What I don’t like is Rep. Thompson’s rationale for not only supporting but sponsoring HB40. I’m no expert in oil and gas law, either, but I understand local control and I can see that cities and homeowners are getting the short end of the stick. More to the point, we progressives need to do a better job of sticking together on stuff like this. Pissing off our own allies isn’t helpful. We’re never going to get anything done if we can’t get people who are broadly aligned with us but not direct stakeholders in a given issue when there’s a fight. I mean, if I’m not willing to scratch your back, why should I expect you to scratch mine?

Somewhat watered down fracking bill advances in House

By “fracking bill”, I mean a bill to limit how cities can regulate fracking, because that’s how things are these days.

In a 10-1 vote, the House Committee on Energy Resources approved an updated version of House Bill 40, among the most prominent of nearly a dozen bills filed in the aftermath of Denton’s vote in November to ban hydraulic fracturing within the North Texas city’s limits.

Intended to clarify where local control ends and Texas law begins, HB 40 would pre-empt local efforts to regulate a wide variety of oil and gas activities.

But the substitute legislation also includes language that specifies what cities could still regulate, including fire and emergency response, traffic, lights and noise, while also allowing them to enact “reasonable” setbacks between drilling sites and certain buildings.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, voted against the bill, while Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, voted “present,” meaning he did not pick a side.

The legislation – proposed by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo – now heads to the full House.

The vote drew rebukes from environmentalists, who criticized any attempt to roll back local control. But some representatives for local governments said they were encouraged by changes to the proposal.

“It’s a lot better,” said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League. “There’s a couple of things we’re not 100 percent happy with, but it’s much better than the filed version.”

See here for the background. I’m glad this bill is more limited in scope now, though there are still plenty of other bills out there to stick it to cities, but the fundamental problem that there is no true statewide oversight of fracking remains. I’ll say it again, if the Railroad Commission were worth a damn, cities like Denton wouldn’t have taken things into their own hands. If the Lege really wants to address this, that’s the place to start. Trail Blazers has more.

Compromise bill to reform property tax appraisals

Better than nothing, I guess, but not clear to me yet how much better.

State lawmakers are looking to partly close a tax loophole that has allowed big companies to drain tens of millions of dollars from local government coffers in recent years, but any reforms that pass may still not end the legal battles that have been driving down appraisals on industrial and commercial properties.

Several reform bills were filed this year as counties began putting pressure on legislators to do something about an increasing number of lawsuits by major companies trying to take advantage of the loophole, which allows property owners to avoid the traditional fair-market system of appraisals.

School districts have been among those hardest hit. Valero Energy Corp. used the loophole to force the Texas City school district to refund about $5 million, while two other lawsuits by the company compelled the Port Arthur school district to pay $32 million in refunds and other charges. The company has new lawsuits pending that could mean even more tax refunds from the two school districts.

The loophole is also costing the state an estimated $70 million to $80 million a year in six counties, according to a January report by the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board that called for sweeping reforms. The state must pay its share of tax revenue lost by school districts.

Although several reform measures have been introduced, the one that appears to have the broadest support in the GOP-controlled legislature is a measure introduced jointly by state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, and state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-Richland Hills, a Fort Worth suburb.

The compromise bill would require that property values used in court cases be arrived at using generally accepted appraisal methods instead of arbitrary estimates arrived at, in the words of the budget board, “independently of the market values of those properties or the appraisal district in which they are located.”

The measure also addresses the board’s concern that the law now allows commercial and industrial property owners challenging their tax assessments to compare their properties with dissimilar ones in other appraisal districts, or even other states. The bill requires that the comparisons be made within the same county unless there are no comparable properties there.

Alvin Lankford, Williamson County’s chief appraiser, said owners of large apartment buildings in his county typically search for such properties in neighboring Travis County to make comparisons rather than use apartment buildings on the same street. “They are able to pick these properties and get the answer they want,” he said.

Many appraisers, citizens’ groups and officials in affected counties wanted a bill that included more of the reforms recommended by the budget board. However, some of the attorneys, consultants, real estate firms and big businesses that benefit tremendously from the loophole refused to negotiate, said Ed Nolan, Dallas County’s chief appraiser and the chairman of the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts’ legislative committee.

“We didn’t get as much as we wanted,” Nolan said. “But it’s a start.”

[…]

In Houston, property owners concerned about having to shoulder higher property taxes because of tax reductions on industrial and commercial property formed Real Value$ for Texas, which has chapters statewide. The group found that from 2009 to 2013, owners of large commercial properties in Texas’ six largest counties shed $5.6 billion in property taxes that were made up for through higher taxes paid by homeowners.

“It’s unfair, it’s bad public policy and it needs to be changed,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, in announcing his own reform bill this month. He said large commercial property owners are using the loophole to “exploit the appeals process to drive down the appraised values of their properties to well below the market value.”

Ellis’ bill was the most ambitious of six reform bills, four by Democrats and two by Republicans. The compromise bill that emerged calls for the most modest changes. It also has the imprimatur of state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

I support Sen. Ellis’ bill, and would like to know what he and groups like Real Value$ for Texas think before I decide how I feel about these compromise bills. They may represent a step forward, but they may also represent a point at which the forces who like things the way they are can say “we’ve already addressed this” and block further progress. The fact that Jim Popp, who may be the single biggest individual profiteer off the current system, appears to have signed off on the Darby/Hancock bills is the surest sign that there’s a lot more that could be done. I don’t think he’s complaining enough for these bills to do enough, but this may be the best we can do for now.

Local control deathwatch: Environment

Unsurprisingly, the Denton fracking ban has provoked a strong reaction.

As policy dilemmas go, the one triggered when Denton voters decided last fall to ban hydraulic fracturing in their city looked like a whopper: The oil and gas industry versus local control — two things Texas holds dear — in intractable opposition. There seemed little doubt lawmakers would weigh in upon their return to Austin.

But four months after the North Texas city’s historic vote, top state lawmakers don’t appear to be scratching their heads. Petroleum is winning hands down, and local control appears headed for a beating.

Several legislative proposals so far leave less wiggle room for Texas cities to regulate oil and gas production. 

“We need to restate that principle that the state has responsibility to regulate the oil and gas industry,” said state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, who chairs the House Energy Resources Committee. “I don’t know where people might have believed that the state was not going to assert fully its rights to regulate that.”

Texas lawmakers this session have filed at least 11 bills that would discourage local governments from enacting or amending certain drilling rules. Meanwhile, those watching legislation on the issue say they haven’t noticed one proposal to bolster – or even support – local control on petroleum development.

“We didn’t expect these to be just completely one-sided,” said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League. “Instead, they’re swinging for the fences, and it’s quite alarming.” 

The trend is part of a broader debate — touching on issues including plastic bag bans and sanctuary cities — that some Republicans have sought to reframe as a debate about the size of government.

Supporters of Denton’s fracking ban “accused me of violating my conservative principles, arguing that since a local government passed a measure, any attempt to overturn it would be using ‘big government’ to squash dissent,” state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, wrote in a recent op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “They have it backwards, because ‘big government’ is happening at the local level.”

One of King’s bills would require cities to get the attorney general’s blessing before enacting or repealing any ordinance by voter initiative or referendum, the tool Denton activists used to push that city’s fracking ban. Another would require cities that tighten drilling regulations to reimburse the state for any lost tax revenue.

Other bills have addressed compensation for mineral rights owners harmed by a local ordinance, while legislation from state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, gets right to the point of the Denton debate: It would ban fracking bans.

Perhaps the most controversial proposals, however, are those most likely to pass. Identical bills from Darby and Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, would limit cities’ power to regulate the industry to “surface activity that is incident to an oil and gas operation, is commercially reasonable, does not effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation, and is not otherwise preempted by state or federal law.”

Texas law says the state intends its mineral resources to be “fully and effectively exploited,” but courts have said the power isn’t absolute. The Texas Railroad Commission oversees the state’s oil and gas industry, with authority to adopt “all necessary rules for governing and regulating persons and their operations.” Local governments have the right to impose reasonable health and safety restrictions, and the Legislature has granted most Texas cities the power to “regulate exploration and development of mineral interests.” 

See here for past coverage. I would have voted for the Denton ban, but I can understand the objections to it. Mineral rights are complex in Texas, and anyone who had such rights within Denton could reasonably complain that his or her property was taken away. It’s also generally better to have a uniform regulatory environment to facilitate business compliance. But that gets to the crux of the matter here, which is that the regulatory environment in Texas is a joke. The Railroad Commission is a complete lapdog for corporate interests. It’s precisely because activists in Denton felt they were being ignored and pushed aside that they sought out an alternate remedy. If we had a useful, functioning Railroad Commission, we would not have had this ballot referendum or interest in having such a referendum in other cities. This is not hard to understand, but the campaign coffers of people like Phil King and Konni Burton depend on them pretending to not understand it.

And speaking of the environment.

In another fight over local control this session, state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), one of the more powerful lawmakers in the House, is pushing a bill that would erode the ability of cities and counties to collect civil penalties from polluters. This morning, Geren described the latest version of his House Bill 1794 to the House Environmental Regulation Committee as a way to curb “lawsuit abuse” by capping the maximum penalties that can be assessed on environmental violators at $4.3 million and imposing a five-year statute of limitations on the filing of lawsuits.

The legislation appears to be a response to high-profile litigation between Harris County and three companies considered liable for the San Jacinto River waste pits, an EPA Superfund site that has been leaking dioxins into the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay for decades.

While Geren jettisoned some of the most far-reaching parts of the original version of HB 1794—a requirement for local governments to prove that a company “knowingly or intentionally” violated the law, for example—local authorities and environmentalists said they were still opposed.

Tom “Smitty” Smith, the veteran head of Public Citizen’s Texas office, said cities and counties need the ability to force polluters to pay civil penalties because state enforcement of environmental laws is so weak.

“We think the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] is a toothless tiger,” he said. The agency doesn’t have the resources or “the guts to go after biggest polluters.”

[…]

County- or city-led lawsuits seeking penalties from water polluters are relatively rare, but Harris County, with its vast petrochemical facilities, 20 known Superfund sites and loose rules that allow homes next to industry, is probably the most litigious. In the last 19 years, the county has issued 18,000 violation notices to companies and filed 205 civil actions, said Cathy Sisk, a retired environmental attorney with Harris County. She said the county only resorted to the lawsuit because the three successor companies hadn’t done anything to clean up the site, even going so far as to defy EPA’s orders.

“We feel like in those cases we need a hammer,” she said.

Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle, a Republican, made a pitch for keeping local control. “Government is best when it’s closest to the people,” he said. Sometimes, state officials are “removed from the passion of the folks who actually live in the neighborhoods, where we work, where we breathe, where we play and live.”

HB 1794 was left pending. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 1509, by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) has yet to be assigned a committee.

Indeed, the TCEQ is as useless as the Railroad Commission and as deeply in the pocket of the people and businesses they are supposed to regulate. What else is one to do but take the avenue that is available? If you don’t want the Harris County Attorney filing so many lawsuits against polluters, then provide a regulatory agency that will, you know, actually regulate. That includes going after the bad actors and levying punishments as needed. Again, this is not hard to understand. It should not be this hard to do.

House passes redistricting and abortion bills

Texas Redistricting:

The House has passed SB 3, the redistricting bill for the state house map, on third and final reading.

There was one last floor amendment today offered by State Rep. Toni Rose (D-Dallas), which moved Rose’s mother and a few other hundred voters into her district from HD 109 where they had been previously.

The amendment was accepted with objection.

State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) also offered an amendment that would have reunited the Sharpstown community in his district. Wu said the Sharpstown community had always been in HD 137 but under the state’s 2011 and the second interim map had been split between Wu’s district and that of State Rep. Boris Miles (D-Houston).

Wu, however, pulled the amendment after laying it out, saying that he had not been able to obtain full consent to the change.

[…]

As on second reading, SB 3 passed on a party line vote and now heads back to the Senate, where the Senate redistricting chair, State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), has committed to accept the House’s changes to its map in keeping with longstanding custom that each house draws its own map.

The House returns at 2:15 p.m. for votes on the state senate and congressional maps.

The Senate is out until Sunday at 1 p.m. when it could take up the state house map bill.

And at 2:15 the House returned and passed the other bills with no muss or fuss. Since the Congressional and State Senate redistricting bills were not amended by the House they will go to Rick Perry for his signature. Greg has more.

Meanwhile, this happened.

After abruptly ending hours of public testimony that went into the wee hours of Friday morning, the House State Affairs Committee reconvened on Friday and quietly approved House Bill 60, its companion, Senate Bill 5 — omnibus abortion restriction legislation — and a standalone measure to ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation, House Bill 16.

With the special session coming to an end on Tuesday, opponents of the measures say the decision by Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, to end to the hearing near 4 a.m. — before hundreds of reproductive rights advocates could testify — may open the door to kill the legislation. They also say their efforts to delay the legislation could enable senators to filibuster it when it returns to that chamber for final approval.

“We had a lot of impassioned testimony, which is the public’s right,” Cook told reporters when the committee adjourned. “Your legislative body weighs very seriously people’s concerns.”

The only committee member present that voted against the three bills, state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, chairwoman of the House women’s health caucus, called the decision to approve the bills despite the testimony of advocates a political farce.

“We all know that abortion will continue to happen, the question is will it be safe and legal,” she said. “It’s all about appeals to the right flank of the Republican party.”

[…]

Farrar and reproductive rights advocates allege Cook’s decision to end testimony could endanger the legislation. House members may be able to kill the bill on a point of order if the committee did not follow proper legislative procedures when they ended testimony. If approved, advocates could also sue the state and seek to overturn the legislation, arguing the state ignored democratic processes by denying them the opportunity to speak on the bill.

We’ll see about that. The “people’s filibuster”, which kept the committee up until almost 4 on Friday morning, made national news, but I think we all knew that in the end the Republicans would do what they had to do to get this out of committee. With the session ending Tuesday, there’s a chance that some further gamesmanship can take place, but I feel pretty confident saying that this is going to pass, one way or another. After that, it’s a matter for the courts and the ballot box. I salute everyone who participated in this little show of force, and I dearly hope it gets our side fired up, because we need to be.

House passes redistricting bills

They accepted a couple of amendments but otherwise the process wasn’t much different from the Senate or the House committee.

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.

Those were the only three that were accepted. I commend you to read Greg and Texas Redistricting for the full blow-by-blow; see also this post for the map that was planned.

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.

Redistricting deal in the works?

Color me skeptical of this.

Original interim State House map

The contours of an agreement might have emerged Monday as a special committee of the Texas House debated maps of congressional and legislative districts.

A Republican lawmaker and an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus said there was a consensus that minority groups would accept maps that create one to two more congressional districts in which Texas minorities hold sway and five to seven more seats in the state House.

[…]

[Jose] Garza, the lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said that if the Legislature does what Perry and Abbott want, it would make a charade of the fact-finding process that’s going on now. “It would be evidence of intentional discrimination,” Garza said.

In other hearings, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, has posed tough questions to witnesses advocating maps other than those supported by Perry and Abbott. But on Monday, he seemed more interested in what the price of peace with minority groups would be.

“We’re in 98 percent agreement,” Villalba said.

Garza said one to two additional seats in Congress and five to seven in the state House could be the basis for a deal.

“We’re not advocating maximization,” he said. “If we were talking maximization, it would be a much higher number.”

Some observers have said it’s in the interest of Republicans to make a deal with minority Democrats because if they leave map drawing to the courts, it will be done without regard to who is an incumbent.

Adding five to seven seats in the House puts us roughly in line with the original interim map drawn by the San Antonio court. That map was based on the pre-redistricting map, on the grounds that it was the last known map to have been pre-cleared, but then SCOTUS ordered the court to base its fixes on the legislatively-drawn maps, which had a smaller baseline for minority districts. By my count, looking at the 2008 election returns for Plan H302, Democrats would expect to win 59 seats, Republicans would expect to win 88, and there are three districts I’d classify as tossups – HDs 26 and 134, which lean GOP, and 105, which leans Dem. I don’t have 2012 numbers for this plan, and I’m counting HD23 as a Dem seat – it’s the same district as in the current interim map – so consider this to be plus or minus one or two either way. We could have skipped a whole lot of trouble if this is the endgame. That’s even before we get to the Congressional map, which I can’t even remember any more. I guess that’s why I’m skeptical of there being a deal like this that would be so much in the Dems’ favor, that and the feather-light sourcing of this story. I freely admit that anything is possible, but this would be a major departure from the Republicans’ party line, which is that the 2012 interim maps already fix everything that needed fixing.

All in all, I think the Trib insiders have it right, and that if anything happens it’ll be what Perry wanted in the first place, which is a ratification of the existing maps. Democratic amendments may get voted on, but if so they’ll be voted down, on straight partisan lines. I think Rep. Darby and Sen. Seliger may have had good intentions with the hearings and all, but having those hearings also served the Republican purpose of addressing the complaint about steamrolling the process and ignoring public input. The special session might provide the chance for the Republicans to do redistricting in a way that deals with reality and avoids more drawn-out litigation, but that’s a mighty selfless thing to ask any political party to do. And now that Rick Perry has thrown some red meat onto the agenda, all bets are off.

Feisty redistricting hearing in Dallas

There really aren’t any other kind of redistricting hearings, when you get right down to it.

Most of the testimony centered on whether to approve interim political maps used in the 2012 elections, or toss those lines out in favor of proposals that would create three congressional districts in North Texas where minorities could elect the candidate of their choice.

Black voters currently control two congressional districts in North Texas — one represented by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and one by Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth. Both are Democrats.

Activists and Democrats want a third district that would be anchored in Dallas and give Hispanic residents the chance to elect their chosen candidate.

There are 2.3 million minority voters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including 1.3 Hispanic residents.

“It is clearly possible to draw an effective Latino district in North Texas,” said Tarrant County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks.

Plans put forward by Democratic Reps. Yvonne Davis and Rafael Anchia, both of Dallas, would create three minority districts, including a new Hispanic district either wholly or mostly in Dallas.

Others testified that changing interim maps, drawn by a federal court, was a waste of time and taxpayer money.

“People need to be conservative with money,” said Dallas Republican Adryana Boyne. “The judges in San Antonio drew a good map. It’s not perfect, but it’s fair.”

[…]

Republicans, in firm control of the Legislature, want to endorse the boundaries. Democrats contend that even though they were drawn by federal judges, they share some of the same discriminatory features of the maps the Legislature tried to pass.

Republicans have the votes to approve the interim maps, and Perry is expected to sign a bill into law. But Democrats are using the hearings to set the stage for legal challenges.

The strategy led to contentious exchanges at Thursday’s meeting at DART headquarters. Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Wade Emmert took exception to questions by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

Emmert contends that Republicans and many activists opposed to the Legislature’s original plan agreed to the interim boundaries. Fischer asked Emmert to name the parties that agreed with the interim plan and Emmert refused.

None of this is likely to change anyone’s minds, certainly not anyone who attended this hearing or any of the others, and while it’s possible that the interim maps could be modified by the Lege when and if it gets around to doing something, this is all really for the benefit of the judges in San Antonio. Everyone involved has a to do list, and the boxes are being checked.

Texas Redistricting also reported from Dallas.

The most frequent complaint from witnesses was about the absence of a Hispanic opportunity congressional district in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to complement the African-American ability-to-elect districts currently represented by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman Marc Veasey.

Several witnesses noted the the DFW Metroplex closely paralleled the demographics and population size of Harris County, which supported two African-American and one Hispanic ability-to-elect districts, but said that under the interim maps, currently only 2 of 9 districts in Dallas County qualified as ability-to-elect districts. Even with the addition of a Hispanic opportunity district, the witnesses told the committee only 3 of 9 districts would elect non-Anglo candidates of choice.

On the state house map, other witnesses also discussed what they said was the illogical fragmentation of Mesquite and Garland in eastern Dallas County.

State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) also asked questions of several witnesses about the possibility of an additional state house opportunity district in Tarrant County – which he said could support four such districts out of 11 current state house seats.

A number of witnesses also questioned why the Legislature was doing anything now, given the pendency of the Shelby Co. case – with one witness, who described himself as a political independent, telling the committee that they should tell Gov. Perry “to stick his call where the sun don’t shine,” and that by pushing through maps now the committee would only be causing rather than reducing litigation.

One answer to that question is that the two committees are attempting to do now what they were supposed to do in 2011, which is to involve and engage the public in this process and base the maps at least in part on the feedback they receive. The fact that the public, especially minority communities, were systematically excluded from the process in 2011 was a significant part of the litigation and of the DC court’s finding of discrimination. I’m sure that fact wasn’t lost on Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Drew Darby or the lawyers that they had advising their committees, even if it didn’t ever seem to occur to Rick Perry and Greg Abbott.

The attorney general said the Legislature could cut away some of the tangled litigation that had the state defending its maps in separate federal courts in Washington and San Antonio. The special session would be over in seven to 10 days, lawmakers said.

Instead, it is like taking a shortcut through a swamp — the sort of well-intentioned romp that marks the beginning of so many classic horror movies. The legal and political monsters appeared right on cue, and what was supposed to be a quick march could become a hard slog.

Legislative leaders expanded the size of the committees considering the political maps, the better to include viewpoints from more of the state’s geographical and demographic groups.

When the San Antonio judges who drew the maps held a hearing last week to find out where things stood, they made it clear that their own interim maps would be subject to the same kind of review any other map might face. They drew them without public input and without intending them to be used more than once.

So now lawmakers are holding redistricting hearings in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Corpus Christi — in addition to Austin — giving the public a chance to talk about new maps. Some are starting to worry that the whole exercise could affect the timing of the 2014 elections. A couple of them have suggested holding even more hearings in more far-flung cities like Laredo and El Paso.

This is not the tidy little package promised by the state’s top lawyer.

Let’s be clear here: Greg Abbott doesn’t represent the interests of the state of Texas, he represents the interests of the Republican Party of Texas, which occasionally but do not as a rule align with the interests of the state as a whole. The idea of the quickie session to ratify the judge-drawn maps and thus fortify the defense of them was a piece of political strategy from the get go. Turns out political strategy and solid legal advice don’t always align, either. It would be funny if the Lege modifies the maps in a sincere (if likely half-hearted) attempt to address some of the issues raised by the DC court only to have the bills they pass vetoed by Perry. At this point, all I can say is that whatever Perry and Abbott thought they would get out of this special session on redistricting, they’re not going to get it. Greg, who will be attending and liveblogging the Houston hearings, has more.

Redistricting hearings schedule

Attend one if you can.

Senate and House committees tapped to work on redistricting during the special session Tuesday released times, locations and dates for field hearings around the state.

The Senate will hold two field hearings, one in Corpus Christi and one in Houston.

  • – Friday, 5 p.m. at Texas A&M University, HRI Conference Center, 6300 Ocean Drive, Corpus Christi.
  • – Saturday, 11 a.m.  at the University of Houston, Michael J. Cemo Hall, 4800 Calhoun Road, Houston
  • – The Senate will wrap up hearings with one last session in Austin on June 12.

The House will hold three of its own, one each in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.

  • – Thursday, 2 p.m., DART Headquarters, Board Room, 1401 Pacific Ave., Dallas
  • – Monday, 2 p.m., VIA Metro Center, Terry Eskridge Community Room, 1021 San Pedro Ave, San Antonio
  • – June 12, 2 p.m. – University of Houston, Michael J. Cemo Hall, Room 100 D, 4800 Calhoun Rd., Houston

It’s probably too late by the time you read this, but Sen. Sylvia Garcia is holding a community breakfast briefing on redistricting today from 8 to 9 at her East Aldine district office – 5333 Aldine Mail Route Road, Houston, TX 77093. For more information about the hearings, see Texas Redistricting.

It’s a short time frame for hearings, but it’s more than we expected going into this special session. It’s unclear at this point if the Lege can get maps approved in the time they will have. And even if they do, as this AP story reminds us, we’re still nowhere close to a resolution.

The two Republican committee chairmen responsible for redistricting, Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Rep. Drew Darby of San Angelo, have promised to consider amendments and even alternative maps, if they’ll make the 2012 maps “more legal.” They have scheduled hearings next week to consider all alternatives.

Considering any changes, though, could blow up the special session. Two federal courts heard hundreds of hours of testimony and reviewed thousands of pages of documents to determine that the Legislature’s original maps were unconstitutional. Introducing all of that evidence to argue for changing the 2012 maps could take months and a special session is limited to 30 days.

Perry was also very specific in his call, saying he only wanted lawmakers to adopt the existing maps. And even if the Legislature and Perry were to agree on new maps, there is nothing to stop additional lawsuits or court reviews.

The three judges in San Antonio did not give any indication of whether they thought the adoption of new maps, either drawn by them or created by lawmakers from scratch, would end the lawsuit. But when ordering Texas to use the 2012 maps, the court explicitly said the maps were “not a final ruling on the merits of any claims” of discrimination.

Quite likely, whatever the Legislature does in the next three weeks, the product will become just another tool in the ongoing fight over Texas’ political maps. If past decades are any indication, redistricting will be settled in 2017. Just three years before the next census in 2020, after which the whole process will begin again.

Indeed, the 1996 and 2006 elections included newly-drawn Congressional districts, the result of SCOTUS finally settling the legislation that followed those redistrictings. We could have different maps for each of the first three cycles.

The redistricting road show is coming

The House Redistricting Committee is taking it on the road.

Rep. Drew Darby

Rep. Drew Darby, chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, said at a hearing Saturday that he’s decided to hold informational sessions in three of the state’s largest cities for members of the public who can’t make the trip to Austin.

Specific dates and locations for each city are still up in the air. And Darby noted that final plans for the field hearings are still being worked out right now.

“This is a very fluid process,” he said.

On that point, Darby at the beginning of Saturday’s hearing had set provisional dates for all three hearings to take place by next week. But by the end of the hearing, and after talking with committee members, he’d already switched up those tentative dates to reflect the likelihood of holding one field hearing next week and saving the other two for the following week.

That effectively nixes any notion that the House committee will be ready to vote out a bill by the end of next week — the tentative timeline Darby laid out at a hearing a day earlier.

“June 7 is no longer even under consideration,” Darby said.

Aside from San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, Democrats on the House panel asked for additional field hearings in El Paso and Laredo. Darby didn’t commit, saying the time crunch — remember the special session can only last for 30 days — could prevent the committee from branching out beyond the three cities already pegged for field hearings.

I suppose the Senate could pick up the slack with hearings in other cities as needed. Along those lines, Sen. Sylvia Garcia sent out an email yesterday saying she would be holding a community briefing on redistricting this Wednesday, June 5, from 8 to 9 AM at her East Aldine district office – 5333 Aldine Mail Route Road, Houston, TX 77093. For more on what happened at the House hearing yesterday, see Greg’s liveblog. Finally, if new Census data is taken into consideration for any further map revisions, Texas Redistricting points out that most of that growth, in terms of CVAP as well as raw population, came from Latinos. Battleground Texas, I believe that’s your number being called.

Still no call to expand the call

Rick Perry may yet expand the call of the special session, but so far he’s sticking to his script about dealing with redistricting first.

snl-church-lady-special

Gov. Rick Perry is leaving the door open for more items on the agenda of the newly called special legislative session, but he said Friday he wants lawmakers to bring him specific proposals that have a chance of passage before putting more on their plate.

“We’re not going to be adding things to the call just for the sake of adding things to the call,” Perry said. “We want to be relatively assured that we’re going to be successful.”

The governor, speaking to reporters at an event highlighting the state’s emergency response capabilities, was asked if he would consider adding to the agenda a fix for the troubled Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, or TWIA, the state’s insurer of last resort for coastal residents.

Perry said that was “certainly possible,” but added that he wanted lawmakers to “get a little closer to what I would consider to be an agreement” before he’ll add the item to the agenda.

While the governor signaled it was “still a little premature” to speculate about expanding the session beyond redistricting — the only issue eligible for action right now — he said other priorities may soon emerge.

“There may be something, whether it’s on the budget, or whether it’s another piece of legislation that ends up being vetoed, or line-item vetoed, that we want to put back on the call and say, hey, you know we didn’t agree with this, let’s see if we can find a way to fix it,” Perry said.

To me at least, that doesn’t suggest that he’s considering the addition of all those wingnut wish list items that David Dewhurst and others are begging for, but then he could just be playing it close to the vest. Texas Politics expands on this, and also provides a peek at Perry’s thoughts on the one item that is on the agenda at this time.

Perry said he wants to drill down to the needs and “TWIA is one of those needs, frankly, that we have in this state.”

He added that “we’re not going to bring it forward until we get a little closer to what I would consider to be an agreement between the disparate groups that are out there.”

Perry responded to reporters’ questions at a news conference after a state emergency readiness activation exercise at Austin Bergstrom International Airport as part of National Hurricane Preparedness Week.

Regarding TWIA, the insurer of last resort for windstorms, Perry said that “it’s one that we have spent a lot of time working on and trying to find a solution to. It’s a complex issue, as diverse as this state is, with the huge exposure that we have along the Gulf Coast.

“Let me just leave it — it is a possibility as a special session item, but still a little premature in the session to be naming any additional issues that we have,” he said.

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said previously that Perry had told him TWIA would be part of a special-session agenda if one were called. Only Perry has the authority to call lawmakers into special session, as he did on redistricting, and to set the agenda, which he hasn’t yet expanded.

Perry also was asked about discussion among lawmakers that while he could call a special session on a particular subject such as redistricting, that he couldn’t restrict its scope to only ratifying the interim court-drawn maps.

His call for the session specified ratification of those maps, a move advised by GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott. Democrats and minority interests have protested the idea.

“The intent of the call was very clear,” said Perry, who has the power to veto legislation that doesn’t suit him.

That sounds like a contradiction of the Senate’s opinion that while Perry can set the agenda, he can’t dictate what the actual legislation looks like. If the Lege sends him a redistricting bill that alters either the House or Congressional districts, especially with Democratic amendments, it’ll be interesting to see if he vetoes it. Definitely worth keeping an eye on this.

Meanwhile, the House had its redistricting hearing yesterday, and once again Greg brought the liveblogging. Here’s the House committee’s tentative schedule, which suggests a bill could be voted out as soon as June 7, after which it would be debated by the full House. Committee Chair Rep. Drew Darby was interviewed about the process afterwards, and you can listen to the audio of that here. We’re all still in the positioning phase, but things will start to get real once amendments and possibly alternative maps get formally proposed. Texas Redistricting has more.

UPDATE: Here’s Greg’s Liveblog Part II, covering today’s House committee hearing.

Many questions at the redistricting hearing

From the Trib:

The Legislature is currently considering whether to ratify maps drawn by the three federal judges and used in the 2012 elections. It became clear during Wednesday’s hearing that the judges and the lawyers in the case agree that the Legislature probably can’t make changes to the maps during the special session — given the charge for that session from Gov. Rick Perry.

The judges didn’t decide anything, though they asked the lawyers several questions about where things stand and how the cases should proceed. Questions include:

  • If the Legislature adopts the court’s lines as its own, should the litigation underway in San Antonio stop and leave future arguments to other courts?
  • Should objections to the state-drawn maps extend to similar lines in the court-drawn maps?
  • Should new information about elections and demographics be used in putting new maps together if it wasn’t available to lawmakers when they first drew maps in 2011?

That’s all open to argument, which is why the court asked the lawyers to file briefs. Lawmakers have said they could be finished in a week to ten days. If that’s so, the judges could be free to decide their own next move knowing what the Legislature wants to do. The lawyers have until next Wednesday to file their briefs, and the judges said they’ll call another hearing sometime after that.

Texas Redistricting goes into more detail.

Hispanic and African-American plaintiff groups took strong issue with the State of Texas’ argument that the case would essentially begin anew.

Jose Garza, counsel for the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, told the three-judge panel that, if the Legislature were adopt the interim maps as permanent, the plaintiffs would be amending their pleadings to include claims based on those maps – and that case law supported the court’s retention of jurisdiction in those circumstances.

And they argued that because the new legislative maps would not really be new maps but rather a variant of the legislatively enacted maps that the court previously considered, the court’s work would essentially pick up where it left off when the interim maps were adopted.

At various points in the hearing, the narrowness of Gov. Perry’s special session call came into question.

Although the state’s lawyer David Mattax said that he could not say whether the call would restrict consideration of alternate maps, lawyers for plaintiff groups – and Circuit Judge Jerry Smith – suggested that it did – and plaintiff groups said that was further evidence that not only were the maps not new, but that Republican leaders had predetermined the outcome – and once again excluded meaningful input from minority groups.

But in a sign of how complicated and unprecedented the current scenario is, Garza and lawyers for the other plaintiff groups said how the court went about its work would depend on whether section 5 survives Shelby Co.

If section 5 is upheld, they said the court would need to consider whether adjustments to the maps would be needed to incorporate the D.C. court’s preclearance findings – a position that Mattax agreed with notwithstanding his position that the maps would be new enactments.

And, if section 5 is struck down, the court would need to address the plaintiffs’ section 2 and constitutional claims, giving preclusive effect to the D.C court’s ruling on issues like discriminatory intent.

The preclusion question drew opposition from the state and extended questioning from Judge Jerry Smith – but no resolution today.

I presume the reason why the plaintiffs want the court to consider the interim maps as the same as the legislatively drawn maps is that most of the groundwork has already been done, so if the interim maps are just variations on a theme then this could all quite reasonably end up with new, more plaintiff-friendly maps in time for the 2014 elections. If we have to start from scratch, however, it’s hard to see how everything could be done in time for the December filing season. That could mean delayed primaries again, or it could mean we keep the interim maps for 2014 and aim for resolution in 2016. Once you see it in those terms, it’s clear why the plaintiffs want to pick up where we left off, and the state wants a do-over.

As for the question about whether the interim maps could be amended during the special session, this isn’t rocket science. Greg Abbott has been calling for the interim maps to be adopted since March, as a piece of strategy to bolster his legal defense of the maps. Discussion was never part of the plan. The irony is that the Republicans were slapped after the 2011 redistricting for ramrodding the process and avoiding input and feedback from minority groups. You’d think they’d learn, but then no, you wouldn’t. Anyway, MALC Chairman Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer sent a letter to House Redistricting Chair Drew Darby, asking to bring the Governor’s office and the AG’s office to the hearings to ask about the agenda and why there’s no apparent room for input in the session. That ought to be fun if Darby accedes to the request.

Finally, everyone officially agreed that the Senate map needed no further changes, so the court will enter an order to that effect and award attorney’s fees to Sen. Wendy Davis once everything else is settled. Going by the briefing schedule the next hearing will be in August, after the Shelby decision is handed down.

Abbott predicts special session for redistricting

For the first time, someone says out loud the rumor of a special session on redistricting.

Still not Greg Abbott

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.

Perry works against his own stated interests

I don’t understand this at all.

A bill that would have increased vehicle registration fees to raise money for transportation projects met its demise in the Texas House on Thursday.

House Bill 3664 by state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, was designed to generate money to pay down the state’s transportation-related debt and fund improvements on non-tolled roads across Texas.

After a spirited discussion, Darby postponed the bill until May 28 — one day after the session ends and lawmakers go home. He cited pressure from outside forces that made voting for the measure difficult for some legislators.

Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday he would call a special session if fees were increased for transportation.

“Send me a balanced budget that has no fee increases for transportation and $2 billion for infrastructure for water, and everyone can go home and enjoy their summer,” he told reporters, explaining that he would call a special session if legislators don’t approve $1.8 billion in tax relief.

[…]

The bill highlighted divisions within the Legislature’s Republican majority. While some disagreed with the revenue raising approach to addressing transportation concerns, supporters of the bill said transportation funding needs were reaching a critical point.

“There’s no doubt that our transportation system is in dire crisis,” said Transportation Committee Chairman state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, who amended Darby’s bill to reduce the proposed fee increase from $30 to $15.

Phillips said the state was facing a $4 billion transportation funding shortfall, and he asserted that not addressing it was “a failure to lead.”

“Are you going to be a leader or are you going to just follow?” Phillips shouted at his colleagues.

“Baaaaaaaaaaa”, most of his colleagues replied. What’s truly amazing about this is that the original proposal for vehicle registration fees was to double them, which is to say increase them by $50, three times as much as Darby’s watered-down bill. That was proposed by Sen. Tommy Williams and endorsed by the Texas Association of Business, who I would think is a little miffed to be dissed like this, both by Perry and the nihilists at Empower Texas, who pushed a typically dishonest alternative instead. I didn’t think raising the registration fee was the best solution, but it wasn’t a terrible idea, and I was crazy enough to think it might be an acceptable solution for a serious need. That’ll learn me. So now we’ve got no transportation solution, no water solution, and no easy way to fund those solutions if we make another attempt at it. What once looked like a productive session is rapidly devolving into a big mess. Good luck sorting it all out in overtime. Trail Blazers has more.

UPDATE: More from EoW and PDiddie.

Water, water, not so fast

So much for that.

A major bill on the top of Gov. Rick Perry’s priority list that would authorize spending billions of dollars on state water projects faltered in the Texas House on Monday night after a contentious debate over where to pull the money from.

“My understanding is it’s doorknob dead,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, said after debate on the measure, which was backed by Speaker Joe Straus, was halted over a legislative technicality.

[…]

Ritter’s bill, House Bill 11, would have taken $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund — a multi-billion dollar reserve of mostly oil and gas taxes — and spent it on water-supply projects, in an effort to help the state withstand future droughts.

Another Ritter bill the House passed earlier this month, House Bill 4, would create a special fund to administer the money.

But HB 11’s backers faced an uphill battle to get enough votes, because drawing from the Rainy Day Fund requires a higher bar — 100 votes rather than the usual 76 votes — to pass.

Democrats’ objections were grounded in the argument that if the Rainy Day Fund gets used for water, it should also be raided for other purposes like public education. Some far-right conservatives, meanwhile, worried about drawing at all from the Rainy Day Fund, which they say should be reserved for emergencies.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, ultimately avoided a vote on HB 11 by raising a point of order, a legislative term for a procedural problem with the bill. Ritter said the bill in its current form is now dead; Perry has previously threatened to call a special session if lawmakers cannot find a way to fund water projects.

If lawmakers do not provide the funding, “I think we’re back in special session, but that’s above my paygrade,” Ritter said.

The Senate, meanwhile, has already passed a measure to move $5.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund into public education and water and transportation projects.

The House had previously passed a bill to create the fund, which the Senate has now also passed, but this was the bill to actually put money in the fund. The Senate also voted to tap the Rainy Day Fund for this and other purposes, but the House was the heavier lift. Bipartisan support was required, which meant as Burka noted that the House Democrats had leverage. He thinks they overplayed their hand, but the reason their support was so badly needed was because of ideological fractures on the GOP side.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank with close ties to several of the state’s political leaders including Perry, announced Sunday it was opposed to the bill.

“The 83rd Texas Legislature has on hand more than $8 billion in new general revenue to pay for increased spending in areas like Medicaid, roads, water and education,” foundation president Brooke Rollins said. “But instead of setting priorities to make the new spending fit within available revenue, the Legislature appears ready to spend far more than this.”

In an unusual disagreement with the group, Perry made the case for a big one-time withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund for water projects in his op-ed. The governor, who considers himself a fiscal conservative, has made economic development his signature issue. And if water gets tight, he said businesses relocations to Texas would dry up.

“The good news is that current economic conditions and available balances in the Rainy Day Fund provide a unique opportunity for the state to partner with communities by offering financing to develop and implement new water supplies,” Perry wrote in support of a one-time transfer of $2 billion from the fund.

Asked about the split among conservatives, Rich Parsons, the governor’s spokesman, said: “We have infrastructure needs in the state that need to be met.” He added: “I think Texans recognize the need for action and expect state leaders to take action, and that’s precisely what the governor is doing.”

Hammond, of the Texas Association of Business, said Monday in support of HB 11: “I think the business community is pretty much united. … It’s necessary [because] unless we do something more than what we’re doing now, in 50 years demand will be up by about 22 percent and supply will be down by about 10 percent. That’s a disaster.”

“It’s already being used against us,” Hammond said, “that Texas is in a drought and they’re not doing anything about it.”

When Rick Perry and Bill Hammond are on the pragmatic, get-stuff-done side, you know how far off into the weeds the enforcers of “conservative” purity have gone. They opposed using the Rainy Day Fund because they oppose spending money – the purpose for the spending and the need it addresses don’t matter. Too many Republican legislators in the thrall of these hegemons, and this is the result.

So now what happens?

Even with the collapse of Ritter’s bill, there are other options. The Senate, which would rather put the politically difficult question before voters, has approved a resolution calling for constitutional amendments that would make available nearly $6 billion from the rainy day fund for transportation and water projects, as well as education.

Another possibility may be House Bill 19 by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo. The bill would draw $3.7 billion from the rainy day fund for water and transportation projects.

“This issue is too important to leave its fate uncertain,” Perry said after the demise of HB 11. “I will work with lawmakers to ensure we address this need in a fiscally responsible manner.”

A special session is a possibility, since Perry has identified the water infrastructure fund as one of his top priorities. Also possible is the for the House budget negotiators to rip up everything they’ve done so far and appropriate the money from general revenue, which is what the slash-and-burn crowd is advocating. That would of course means however much money would then need to be taken away from everything else in the budget, which I don’t think the Senate will go along with. Some other bill may come to the rescue – where there’s a sufficiently broad caption, there’s a way. I think this is more likely to be a temporary setback than a “doornail dead” situation, but we’ll see. PDiddie, EoW, the Observer, and the TSTA have more.

Redistricting remains a partisan issue

We’re not surprised by this, right?

Alternate Plan C236 by Rep. Yvonne Davis

Amarillo Sen. Kel Seliger offered a redistricting bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee that would formally adopt interim maps drawn by a federal court in San Antonio last year. The maps for Congressional, state Senate and House districts were used for the 2012 election while a federal court in Washington DC reviewed maps drawn by the Legislature after minority groups filed a lawsuit to block them.

After the 2012 primary, that federal three-judge panel determined that the Republican-controlled Legislature intentionally discriminated against African Americans and Latinos, prompting Attorney General Greg Abbott to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and challenge the court’s authority to review the maps under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Seliger throwing out the old maps and formally adopting the San Antonio court’s interim maps would end the litigation.

“The interim maps represent the court’s best judgment as to the maps that would be fully legal and constitutional,” he said. “Enacting these lawful and constitutional interim plans will help bring to a close this chapter of redistricting, enacting these plans will practically ensure that the ongoing litigation over Texas redistricting plans will come to a swift end and bring some surety of the primaries ensuing.”

The Senate Democratic Caucus, Mexican American Legislative Caucus, NAACP and voting rights group Common Cause leapt to oppose the measure and Seliger’s assertions.

“Neither I nor my 11 colleagues … can trust the redistricting process,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, representing Senate Democrats. “Texas was the only state in the nation subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was found to have deliberately discriminated against African American and Latino citizens.”

He said Abbott’s efforts to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and to restore the original maps the Washington court found discriminatory could only lead Democrats and minorities to distrust Seliger’s bill.

Jose Garza, an attorney with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus who argued before the Washington court, said Seliger mischaracterized the interim maps and said Washington court’s decision called for the San Antonio court to draw yet another set of maps. He promised continued litigation if the Legislature adopted the interim maps.

In fact, MALC has opposed the plan to adopt the interim maps as permanent all along. I don’t have any idea where he gets the impression that adopting the interim maps would end litigation. The San Antonio court did draw the interim maps based on instructions from SCOTUS to fix what they thought were problems with the legislatively drawn maps, but all that was done well before the preclearance trial, in which the DC court found persistent discrimination in the maps and the process. If they knew then what they know now, it’s very possible, if not likely, that the San Antonio court would have drawn different maps. You can certainly argue that the interim maps are sufficient, the point is that you can also argue that they are not. For that simple reason, adopting them as permanent would not settle the arguments.

Texas Redistricting recaps the hearing, which he calls “relatively sedate”. Of interest is that the Senate Democrats refused to budge at all on this.

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 rules in 2011 were one of the things cited by the D.C. court as supporting a finding of discriminatory intent.

Senate Dems can use the two-thirds rule to block Sen. Seliger’s map from reaching the floor. House Democrats are also unanimous in their opposition to adopting the interim maps as permanent, though there’s not much they can do to stop it in their chamber short of a walkout. It’s still remarkable to see all 67 Dems in the Lege unite on something.

Anyway, there’s no sign of the House taking up the companion bill by Rep. Drew Darby as yet. Written testimony to the Senate committee is due by 5 PM on April 24.

Senate committee to take up interim maps bill

From Texas Redistricting:

The Texas Senate’s state affairs committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday, April 18, at 2 p.m. (or upon adjournment) to consider SB 1524 – State Sen. Kel Seliger’s bill to adopt the court-drawn interim maps as permanent.

As drafted, the bill would apply to all three maps that are currently in litigation (state house, state senate, congressional).

As of this time, the House redistricting committee still has not scheduled a hearing on the companion bill filed by State Rep. Drew Darby (or any hearings for that matter).

Here’s SB1524. These are the interim maps, and the Abbott strategy that has puzzled me so. There’s no remaining argument over the Senate map, so making that one permanent should cause no grief, but the House and Congressional maps remain in dispute and could be modified further by the San Antonio court even if Section 5 is thrown out, given the DC Court’s finding of discrimination in them. Be that as it may, I don’t expect the process to be as contentious as it usually is, on the grounds that everyone in the Legislature was elected under these maps, in most cases by comfortable margins. As one of the Trib’s insiders notes, the incumbents all like the existing maps. So we’ll see how this goes, but I won’t be surprised if there’s a lack of fireworks. Having said all that, I completely agree with the Express News.

Here’s a better idea: Take to heart the federal court decision that denied preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and then craft maps that give minority voters a shot at the representation their numbers merit. Failing that, the San Antonio federal judges will have to craft better maps.

The best move in any case would be to ultimately remove the responsibility for redistricting from the Legislature, whose members will always be more concerned with re-election and party dominance than drawing maps fairly.

Clearly, the attorney general is hoping — not without reason — for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in another case to gut Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires states with histories of discrimination to get changes to voting and election law precleared. Texas is appealing the lower court’s refusal to grant preclearance to the state’s maps.

But even if Abbott gets his desired ruling, that doesn’t mean the retrogression and discrimination didn’t happen. It will simply mean states such as Texas can get away with its shenanigans until — or only if — they are challenged under a different section of the Act, a much more difficult task for challengers.

Lawmakers should reject Abbott’s recommendation.

I’m not going to hold my breath for any of that. For a much more detailed look at the continuing dispute over the Congressional map, see this Texas Redistricting post about treatment of Hispanics in North Texas, and this post about Travis County. There’s a whole lot more that could and really should be done, but what matters is what’s legally required, and we won’t know that for some time.

Abbott asks for the interim maps

Very interesting.

The recently dormant Texas redistricting issue woke up Thursday with a disagreement between the state’s attorney general and a Latino legislators’ group.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has called on the Legislature to make the current — and interim — redistricting maps permanent.

Abbott’s letter to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus — which was dated March 8 and just uncovered by Michael Li, a redistricting expert and author of a redistricting blog — said if the interim maps become permanent, then further intervention from federal courts might not be necessary. That, Abbott’s letter said, could “ensure an orderly election without further delay or uncertainty.”

“Enacting the interim plans into law would confirm the Legislature’s intent for a redistricting plan that fully comports with the law, and will insulate the State’s redistricting plans from further legal challenge,” Abbott wrote.

The Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, or MALC for short, responded in a filing with the San Antonio federal court that approved the interim maps. MALC said the interim maps for the Texas House and the U.S. House of Representatives still might not comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

“The attempt of the State of Texas to circumvent the judicial process through legislation that fails to provide a final remedial redistricting plan for Texas House and Texas Congressional Districts is even more reason for this Court to begin the process that will lead to a final and just remedial plan for future Texas elections,” MALC said in its filing.

Here’s the Texas Redistricting post the story refers to, and the MALC advisory that contains and objects to Abbott’s letter. I had previously noted the earlier Texas Redistricting post that pointed out the late-filed bills to make the interim maps permanent. At the time, I wondered if Republican Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Drew Darby had consulted with Abbott about this before they filed. Now I know. What’s curious about this is that Abbott’s intent in appealing the DC court’s ruling that denied preclearance to the Supreme Court was to get the original legislatively-drawn maps enacted for 2014. I’m not sure what he has in mind by changing direction in this way. Is it a hedge against a potentially adverse ruling from SCOTUS, or is there something else to it that I’m not seeing? Burka thinks he’s playing partisan games, but I still can’t see towards what end. Whatever the case, this also answers my question about whether the plaintiffs would accept that deal as insurance against Section 5 being gutted. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

The redistrictor’s dilemma

Some fascinating news from Texas Redistricting.

Dallas and Tarrant counties under Plan C236

Friday’s bill filing deadline in the Texas Legislature brought bills by State Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) – chair of the House redistricting committee – and State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) to make permanent the three interim maps drawn by the San Antonio court last year.

The identical bills (SB 1524 in the Senate and HB 3840 in the House) set out legislative findings that the interim maps “comply with all federal and state constitutional provisions or laws applicable to redistricting plans, including the federal Voting Rights Act” and that adoption of the maps on a permanent basis would “diminish the expense of further time and money by all parties in Texas’ ongoing redistricting litigation” and “avoid disruption of the upcoming election cycle.”

Ahead of Friday’s bill deadline, the chair of the House Democratic caucus, State Rep. Yvonne Davis of Dallas also filed placeholder bills (HB 3846 and HB 3847) to redraw the state house and congressional maps.

If I were in charge of the Texas Democratic Party and had the proxy of all of the plaintiffs and intervenors in the redistricting litigation, and the Republicans came to me with the offer of keeping the interim maps for the rest of the decade in return for not pursuing any further appeals to SCOTUS, I’d consider it to be a pretty tempting offer. If I felt confident that SCOTUS would leave the Voting Rights Act intact in the Shelby case, and in the Texas redistricting and voter ID cases, and anything else after that, I’d thank them and decline, on the grounds that I would expect further remediation of the existing maps from the San Antonio court. Given that it’s at best a coin flip that Section 5 stays in place after SCOTUS rules, I’d stick out my hand and say “You’ve got a deal”. Given that the state intends to have the maps drawn by the Legislature in 2011 implemented in the event of Section 5’s demise, as a straight-up expected value proposition it’s hard to see a downside to this. That in turn makes me wonder who Darby and Seliger talked to before filing these bills. I figure the reaction in Greg Abbott’s office is something like “WTF are they doing over there?” I haven’t seen any news stories about this, so I’m just speculating, but it sure is intriguing.

As for Rep. Davis’ bills, there’s a link to the maps for them here. The Congressional map is especially interesting. It restores CD25 as a Travis County-anchored district, and restores Travis County to having only three districts in it (CDs 10 and 21 being the other two), while creating a new Latino district in Dallas (CD03), restoring CD27 to South Texas, and moving CD34 to Central Texas. CD33 moves to be entirely within Tarrant County, and remains a black/Hispanic district, probably at least as favorable to Rep. Marc Veasey as the current district is. Going by the population distribution (compare to the current map here), I would expect Dems to pick up CDs 03, 25, and 27, lose CD34, and I can’t tell what might happen in CD23. I haven’t taken a close look at the legislative map, but I will note that it makes HDs 105 and 107 in Dallas County a lot less white (compare current to proposed demographics), so you can draw your own conclusions. It’s a little hard to imagine a scenario under which these bills would be taken under consideration; my guess is that they’re creating a baseline for the San Antonio court to evaluate if Section 5 is left alone. I’m just guessing.

Anyway. Tomorrow is the deadline for both sides in the San Antonio case to submit their briefs outlining what they think should happen after SCOTUS rules one way or the other on the Voting Rights Act. That may tell us a lot about how confident each side is of their position.

Noted for 2013

When the next Texas Legislature gets gaveled in and hears the bad news about the ten-figure budget shortfall it will have to deal with, remember that at least one Republican involved in the budget-writing process this year says we won’t be able to cut our way out of it this time.

Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, said a faltering business “margins tax,” the state’s population boom, the awful drought and Texas’ need to improve transportation and water systems will force state leaders to change their fiscal approach.

[…]

Darby repeated the GOP leadership’s assertion that in this year’s session, it put more state funds into public schools than in the 2009 session. (Last time, federal stimulus money was substituted for $3.2 billion of what otherwise would have been state money in the two-year schools budget.) He said lawmakers this year “lived up to that trust” in avoiding the shunting of spending burdens to cities and counties.

“But I can tell you Texas is like every other state positioned here today: We’re going to have to start looking at our revenue side,” he said, ticking off all the challenges.

“We can’t just look at the cutting side.”

Darby may have said that before the lawsuit against the margins tax was filed. All I can say is that the odds of this approach being taken are inversely proportional to the number of teabaggers in the Lege in 2013. But at least we have it on the record.