Featured, from left: Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who serves as Chair, House Committee on Redistricting, with Gov. Greg Abbott, on the floor of the chamber of the House of Representatives in Austin on Tuesday, May 7, 2019.
Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY
Powerful House Committee on Redistricting, which will help determine if Valley gets additional seats in the Texas Legislature and in Congress, to meet on Friday at Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance and Saturday at TSTC in Harlingen
The powerful House Committee on Redistricting, which will help determine if the Rio Grande Valley has additional seats in the Texas Legislature and in Congress during the next decade, will meet on Friday afternoon, December 13, 2019, at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance and on Saturday morning, December 14, 2019, at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, has announced.
Redistricting is the process by which the geographical divisions of the state into congressional, state representative, state senator, and State Board of Education electoral districts are periodically revised. District boundaries are redrawn every 10 years following the publication of the U.S. Census to maintain approximately equal populations across all electoral districts in the state.
There are no Valley state representatives on the House Committee on Redistricting, but that panel’s counterpart, the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting, features Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as Vice-Chair, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, as a member.
In January 2021, the Texas Legislature will begin the always contentious political battles to come up with a redistricting plan that will be able to survive the lawsuits over fairness that are almost sure to follow. At most stakes for the Valley are how the state and congressional districts will be physically shaped, and if deep South Texas will receive or lose any state representative, state senate, or congressional districts which are anchored in the Valley.
The number of state and congressional districts that any region of Texas comes away following redistricting means the gain or loss of hundreds of millions of dollars annually in state and federal funds for almost every government program in those areas.
“The House Redistricting Committee will meet to hear invited and public testimony at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Halls A&B, located at 118 Del Prado in Edinburg, at 3 p.m.,” said Guerra, whose House District 41 legislative district is home to the conference center.
The purpose of the gathering, which is formally known as an “interim field hearing”, is to solicit public input on the 2021 legislative redistricting process and provide context to the official 2020 Census data that the 87th Texas Legislature will receive by April 2021, the McAllen lawmaker explained.
The meeting in Edinburg and in Harlingen seek to maximize the opportunities for Texans to share information they believe is relevant to the upcoming redistricting process, including information about communities of interest within Texas, Guerra added.
The meeting in Harlingen will take place, beginning at 11 am., in the Cultural Arts Center of Texas State Technical College, located at 1825 N. Loop 499.
At both locations, the meetings will begin with invited testimony by officials with the Texas Demographic Center and with the Texas Legislative Council, Mapping and Redistricting Section.
According to their respective websites:
• The Texas Demographic Center functions as a focal point for the production, interpretation, and distribution of demographic information for Texas. The Texas Demographic Center produces and disseminates population estimates and projections for Texas, as well as other demographic information. Special emphasis is placed on data that may be useful to policymakers in dealing with issues regarding the demand for State services (https://demographics.texas.gov/AboutUs); and
The Texas Legislative Council is a nonpartisan legislative agency that serves as a source of impartial research and information. Its staff assists legislators in drafting and analyzing proposed legislation and in obtaining information on specific legislative problems and on matters affecting the general welfare of the state. Council staff also handle the printing, processing, and distribution of legislative documents and provide computer support to the legislature and all of the other legislative agencies. TLC staff develop tools to support the Texas Legislature in all its redistricting activities. (https://tlc.texas.gov/about)
Following the presentations by representatives with the Texas Demographic Center and the Texas Legislative Council, Mapping and Redistricting Section, the public will be provided the opportunity to address the legislative panel.
Redistricting panel includes six possible candidates for Speaker of the House
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who serves as Chair, House Committee on Redistricting, is scheduled to attend both Valley meetings.
The upcoming visit to the Valley by the House Committee on Redistricting also will provide South Texans an opportunity to meet with King, and several other members of that legislative panel, who could be making legitimate bids to become Speaker of the House of Representatives in January 2021.
King, along with at least the following five other members of the House Committee on Redistricting, have previously campaigned for, or have been publicly linked to becoming, Speaker of the House in January 2021:
• Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who also currently serves as the Speaker of the House Pro Tem;
• Rep. Chris Paddie R-Marshall, who also currently serves as Chair, House Committee on Energy Resources;
• Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, who also currently serves as Chair, House Committee on Calendars;
• Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who also currently serves as Chair, House Committee on Public Health; and
• Rep. Chris Turner, D-Houston, who also currently serves as Chair, House Committee on Higher Education.
Earlier this year, Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, announced he will be retiring from the House of Representatives as of December 31, 2020.
According to Bonnen’s office:
The Speaker is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives. The Texas Constitution requires the House of Representatives, each time a new legislature convenes, to choose one of its own members to serve as Speaker.
As a presiding officer, the Speaker maintains order during floor debate, recognizing legislators who wish to speak and ruling on procedural matters. The Texas Constitution also requires the speaker to sign all bills and joint resolutions passed by the legislature. As a member of the House of Representatives, the Speaker may vote on all questions before the House.
The other duties and responsibilities of the Speaker are determined by the members of the House in the House Rules of Procedure, which are adopted by a majority vote of the members at the beginning of each regular session of the legislature. The members give the Speaker the authority to appoint the membership of each standing committee, subject to rules on seniority, and to designate the chair and vice-chair for each committee. Under the rules, the Speaker is responsible for referring all proposed legislation to committee, subject to the committee jurisdictions set forth in the rules. The rules also allow the Speaker to appoint conference committees, to create select committees, and to direct committees to conduct interim studies when the legislature is not in session.
More on how redistricting works in Texas
The House Committee on Redistricting also provided Internet links to more details information on how the redistricting process works:
Although the formal redistricting process under the Texas Constitution may remain the same, every decade sees a different, often unpredictable, path for state redistricting plans, depending on legislative, gubernatorial, Legislative Redistricting Board, and judicial action. The history of the redistricting process during the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s illustrates some of the different courses decennial redistricting can take. The timing and legal requirements, however, dictate that the basic process generally takes the following course, which is described in more detail in the associated sections.
Federal census population data is delivered to the legislature no later than April 1 of the year following the decennial census, and the data is usually provided several weeks earlier. As soon as the census data is verified and loaded in the computer systems, the members of the legislature and other interested parties begin drawing plans. Bills to enact new state redistricting plans follow the same path through the legislature as other legislation.
If Texas Senate or House districts are not enacted during the first regular session following the publication of the decennial census, the Texas Constitution requires that the Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB), a five?member body of state officials including the lieutenant governor and speaker of the house, meet and adopt its own plan. The LRB has jurisdiction only in the months immediately following that regular session.
If congressional or State Board of Education districts are not enacted during the regular session, the governor may call a special session to consider the matter. If the governor does not call a special session, then a state or federal district court likely will issue court?ordered plans. Similarly, if the legislature and LRB fail to adopt a state senate or state house plan, a court will likely issue a plan to fill the void.
A suit challenging an adopted redistricting plan may be brought at any time under the federal or state constitution or federal law. Before 2013, Texas and certain other states were required to obtain federal preclearance of any redistricting plans before they could be implemented. In 2013, the applicable provision of the federal Voting Rights Act was held invalid by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The filing deadline for primary elections established by the Texas Election Code allows approximately six and one-half months from the end of the regular legislative session for the governor to act on any redistricting legislation passed, for the LRB to meet if necessary, for any special session called to consider redistricting if necessary, for court action, and for counties to make necessary changes in county election precincts.
The public hearings process
In order to gather the information that will aid the Texas Legislature in making redistricting decisions, legislative committees generally hold public hearings in the months leading up to the redistricting session. While the official census population data is not available until after the session begins, the hearings provide an opportunity for citizens to present relevant testimony concerning local preferences, communities of interest, local voting patterns, and other issues that the legislature may consider when redrawing district lines. The hearings also promote public awareness of the legislative redistricting process.
Public committee hearings are also held during the legislative session on redistricting bills under consideration.
The U.S. Census Bureau delivers state population data to the president by December 31 of the census year, at which time the number of congressional seats for each state is computed. The detailed population data necessary for redistricting must be delivered to the states by the following April 1. This gives the Texas Legislature as little as 60 days to draw and adopt legislative district boundaries before the regular session ends. After the legislature receives the census data, it takes several days to load the data into the redistricting computer system, verify the integrity of the data, and ensure that the system is functioning correctly. House and Senate rules setting end-of-session procedures place further limitations on the time available to pass redistricting bills.
Redistricting bills follow the same path through the legislature as other legislation. Congressional and State Board of Education (SBOE) district bills may be introduced in either or both houses; the senate and house redistricting bills traditionally originate only in their respective houses. Following final adoption by both houses, each redistricting bill is presented to the governor for approval. The governor may sign the bill into law, allow it to take effect without a signature, or veto it. If the House of Representatives or Senate redistricting bill fails to pass or is vetoed and the veto is not overridden by the legislature, the Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB) is required to meet. If the congressional or SBOE bill fails to pass or is vetoed and the veto is not overridden, the governor may call a special session to consider the matter.
Enacted redistricting plans or those adopted by the LRB are filed with the Texas secretary of state. The plans adopted, in most cases, become effective for the following primary and general elections, subject to any judicial action if a lawsuit challenging a plan is filed.
For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).