Senate and House Redistricting Committees Continue Public Hearings In Arlington
ARLINGTON - The Senate Committee on Redistricting and the House Committee on Redistricting continued the practice of meeting together to hear public opinion on redistricting. The committees held a public hearing Friday, April14, 2000, on the University of Texas at Arlington campus.
Redistricting is the revision of the geographic boundaries of legislative, congressional, and State Board of Education (SBOE) districts. The boundaries established are used to elect members to representative bodies. Law requires the Legislature to redistrict in the next legislative session after the national census every ten years to ensure fair representation to elected bodies. Two basic legal requirements are governing redistricting decisions. Districts must have equal or nearly equal representation. Districts must be drawn in a manner that does not have a purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of race or language.
The 1990 census counted almost seventeen million Texans. The projected growth of Texas in 2000 is expected to be more than twenty million; a 20% increase. Based on expected population figures, a state senate district population will increase from 548,000 to 660,000. The average state house district will increase from 113,000 to 136,000. Congressional districts will increase from 566,000 to 639,000. SBOE districts currently have 1.088 million and will increase to 1.132 million.
The hearing was well-attended by the public and local government officials, with more than forty persons testifying. Topics of discussion included unifying counties divided under the current boundaries and whether to use statistical sampling or exact census figures. Rural counties near large urban areas have been divided due to the large number of citizens required to equalize populations in districts. Statistical sampling measures a small group and applies the figures to the population as a whole. The use of statistical sampling is controversial due to conflicting language in federal law. The 1990 census was the first census less accurate than its predecessors. This controversy lead to the passage of the Decennial Census Improvement Act of 1991, which called for studies by the National Academy of Sciences on ways to achieve the most accurate census, including the use of sampling techniques. The use of sampling is not required by the federal government. States can choose to use sampling.
Local officials testifying included Arlington Mayor Elzie Odom, Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem Ralph McCloud, Benbrook Mayor Felix T. Hebert, State Representative Lon Burnam, Richland Hills Mayor Charles Scoma, Parker County Judge Mark Riley, Irving Mayor Joe Putnam, Fort Worth City Council Member Wendy Davis, and Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon.
Alan Ware and Jeff Archer gave visual presentations representing the Texas Legislative Council (TLC), as did J. Gerald Hebert, General Counsel of IMPAC 2000. TLC is a non-partisan support agency for the Legislature. IMPAC 2000 is the redistricting project of the Democratic National Committee. Ware's presentation was an update on the current census count. Archer discussed the Voting Rights Act, gerrymandering and racial issues, and the effect on the redistricting process. Hebert's presentation related to historical trends of the redistricting process in Texas and the court cases stemming from the 1990 redistricting process.
Senate members include Troy Fraser of Burnet County and Mario Gallegos of Houston serving as co-chairs, Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, Mike Jackson of LaPorte, Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, Frank Madla of San Antonio, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Florence Shapiro of Plano, and Royce West of Dallas. Fort Worth Senator Mike Moncrief joined the committees for the proceedings.
House members include Representatives Delwin Jones of Lubbock serving as chair, Bob Glaze of Gilmer serving as vice-chair, Fred Bosse of Houston, David Counts of Knox City, Jim Dunnam of Waco, Kent Grusendorf of Arlington, Bob Hunter of Abilene, Kenny Marchant of Coppell, Paul Moreno of El Paso, Jim Pitts of Waxahachie, and Ron Wilson of Houston.
The committees will hold another public hearing at the Dallas County Convention Center Saturday, April 15, 2000. The committees plan several more public hearings before the 77th Legislature convenes in January of 2001.