Legislature Begins Special Session
Monday was a busy night for Texas lawmakers. By 5:18 both chambers had adjourned sine die, meaning without a future meeting time, to officially end the 83rd legislative session. But by 5:30, they had a future meeting time: 6 pm that night.
Governor Rick Perry’s official call for the special session focused on only one topic. It directed lawmakers to focus on redistricting. Specifically on the State House and Senate and Congressional maps drawn by federal judges and used in the 2012 elections.
A move that some question. Especially democrats who think Attorney General Greg Abbott wants to approve the new maps to stop future lawsuits.
“And what better way to get some relief then to be able to walk into court saying that we don’t need to do redistricting because the state of Texas adopted a map that’s been judicially pre-cleared," State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) said. "Everybody recognizes that as a red herring and a desperate attempt to take himself out of a bad situation that only he created."
Fischer has been part of efforts to overturn the original state-drawn maps... specifically over what he considers underrepresentation of Hispanics.
But on the first night of the special session, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst downplayed any notion that making the interim maps permanent would settle legal disputes.
“Our adopting the three maps does foreclose the Republicans to file suit and ask for improvements in the maps, or the Democrat to file suit and ask for improvements in the maps," Dewhurst said.
So let’s back up and provide a little history. Texas lawmakers drew new congressional and state legislative maps in 2011. A federal court in San Antonio said, nope those maps aren’t good. So they drew their own maps, called interim maps, which the judges said fixed some of the minority voting rights and other problems they found in the maps drawn by lawmakers.
Representative Fischer is obviously opposed to the AG’s plan. But he said there’s another problem with a special session on redistricting. While the Attorney General’s goal might be to quickly pass the current temporary maps, that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t show up with their own ideas for a new map.
“There are Republicans who feel like the map needs to get larger. There are minorities who can draw maps to show that there are more seats to be drawn by minorities. There are incumbents who feel like they lost special areas in their voting areas that they’d like to have back," Fischer said.
One way the Senate may try to get around that problem is by setting aside that chambers tradition of first setting up a blocker bill, which then requires a two-thirds vote of Senators for any other bill to jump line and be debated.
Lt. Governor Dewhurst took some tough questions about breaking that tradition Monday night. He countered by saying he is simply following another tradition set by Democratic Lt. Governor Bob Bullock.
“In the special session on redistricting in 1991, he operated the special session without a blocker bill," Dewhurst said.
After meeting Monday night, the Senate, and it’s redistricting committee, won’t meet again until Thursday. The House meets for the first time in the special session this morning.