AUSTIN — Legislative leaders said they are willing to make major revisions to Texas’ voting maps at a hearing on Wednesday, possibly setting the stage for a lengthy special session intended to end the fight over redistricting.
Republican Rep. Drew Darby, the chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, said he is “not willing to rubber-stamp any proposal that has not been evaluated by this committee and other proposals considered.” He added that he was ready to make “legally required” changes to ensure the interim maps are constitutional.
But he drew the line, just as the chairman of the Senate committee did Thursday, at any attempts to make changes based on personal or political preferences.
“I don’t want to miss this opportunity to address some of the concerns that have been expressed,” Darby said.
Gov. Rick Perry called the Legislature into special session Monday to “ratify and adopt” the maps used for the 2012 election. A federal court in San Antonio drew those interim maps while it considered a larger accusation of civil rights violations. Minority lawmakers and advocates testified Friday that those maps were only a temporary solution and did not address the intentional discrimination found by a Washington, D.C., court earlier this year.
While there appears to be a settlement to accept the state Senate maps, the lawsuit over the Texas House and congressional maps continues in San Antonio, where the three-judge panel is considering drawing yet another set for 2014.
The race is on to see if Republicans can get the votes to ratify the 2012 maps or reach a compromise with Democrats on new maps for 2014; or whether the San Antonio court will impose their own version. None of those solutions, however, are likely to end the lawsuits.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who as chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus is part of the redistricting lawsuit, said he hoped lawmakers could draft equitable political maps, but that would require accounting for new census data and the Washington court’s ruling. “I just do not know that we can do this in two weeks or three weeks,” the Democrat said.
Advocacy groups told both the House and Senate committees that lawmakers needed to give at least weeks’ notice before announcing meetings and should get input from outside of Austin. So far, the Republican committee chairmen rejected those proposals.
The only person to testify in favor the interim maps was B.R. “Skipper” Wallace, who heads the Texas Republican County Chairman’s Association. He said drafting new maps could delay the March 4 primary date and that the existing ones were adequate.
“Redrawing or going back and tearing up these maps would not be a good thing for Texas,” he said. “The courts and the Legislature did a very good job of trying to meet everybody’s requests, which is a totally impossible task.”
Special sessions can only last 30 days, and the current one will end June 26 regardless whether lawmakers accomplish their task.