Politics

If the U.S. Census pegs Bell County’s population around 400,000, state Rep. Hugh Shine expects the two Texas House seats here to be entirely encompassed inside the county line.

The Temple Republican discussed the upcoming battle over redistricting and other legislative issues Monday morning during a virtual forum with the Belton Area Chamber of Commerce.

A question from Belton Mayor Wayne Carpenter prompted the redistricting conversation.

“Given the rapid population growth in Bell County and surrounding counties, is it too early to consider how redistricting might impact you and us?” Carpenter asked.

It is too soon to tell if Shine’s expectation will happen. Census numbers are expected to be delivered to states by April 30, according to The Texas Tribune.

Census estimates from 2019 show Bell County having a population of 362,923. The 2010 Census said the county’s population was 310,235 and the 2000 Census put that figure at 237,974.

“Right now, it sounds like we won’t have any numbers until the summer so that means a special session, at the moment, may be in September,” Shine said.

If the 2020 Census puts the county’s population anywhere near 400,000, that would be almost a 90,000-person increase over a decade — an almost 29 percent jump between censuses.

The two House districts in Bell County are Shine’s District 55 — which covers the northeastern half of the county — and Rep. Brad Buckley’s District 54 — which covers the rest of the county and Lampasas County.

Under the 2010 Census, each of the 150 state House districts should have a population of about 167,637, according to the state.

Estimates have shown the Lone Star State growing by more than 4.2 million residents since 2010, The Tribune reported.

“Because of the population growth in Texas, you’re going to see a lot of districts — House, Senate and Congressional — in parts of West Texas and East Texas are going to expand and you’re going to see districts in the urban areas — Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin — are going to contract,” Shine said.

If redistricting is pushed back to September, lawmakers will have to work quickly to redraw the political maps. Filing for the March 1, 2022, primary begins Sept. 14 and ends Dec. 13, according to the Texas secretary of state.

“We’ll know more about that hopefully toward the end of the session or in the early summer,” Shine said.

Gov. Greg Abbott would have to call lawmakers back for a special session to tackle redistricting.

Pushing back redistricting creates a domino effect. Counties, cities and school districts will have to wait until the state completes its redistricting process to begin redrawing their own maps.

“We can’t do our work until the state does its work,” Bell County Judge David Blackburn said, adding local governments will have an even tighter turnaround for their maps than the state.

County voting precincts, commissioner precincts, justice of the peace precincts, school board member districts and city council member districts are all affected.

The new congressional districts will be interesting, Shine said. It is likely many U.S. House districts will cover multiple state Senate districts, he said.

As of the 2010 Census, each of the 31 state senators should represent about 811,147 people, while the 36 Texas Congress members should represent a population of 698,488.

Redistricting is one of the most fiercely contested issues in the Legislature. It sets the political direction of the state for the next decade, and is always a fight between Republicans and Democrats.

“It will be the show of the year once we’re done with the regular session,” Shine said.

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