Senate and House Redistricting Committees Meet at State Capitol
AUSTIN - The Texas Senate Committee on Redistricting continued its series of joint public hearings with the House Committee on Redistricting Friday, September 22, 2000 in the Senate Chamber. The committees are holding public hearings throughout the state to hear testimony relating to future legislative, congressional, and State Board of Education districts. Both the United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution require the State Legislature to redraw these district lines every ten years, upon completion of the census. Districts must have equal or nearly equal representation, and be drawn in a fair manner that will not have the effect of denying the right to vote on the basis of race or language.
Federal law requires the census data to be delivered to the states by April 1, 2001 and it is unlikely that it will be available much earlier. Since the Legislature must adjourn sine die on May 28, 2001, there is little time in the regular session for the complex redistricting task. New district boundaries are to be in place for the 2001 elections.
The 1990 census counted almost 17 million Texans. The projected population of Texas in 2000 is expected to be more than 20 million; a 20% increase. Based on these figures, a State Senate district population would increase from 548,000 to 660,000. The average State House district would increase from 113,000 to 136,000. U.S. Congressional districts would increase from 566,000 to 639,000. State Board of Education districts currently have 1.088 million and would increase to 1.132 million.
Today's hearing began with Senator Gonzalo Barrientos formally proposing a motion he had presented at a previous meeting. He proposed to ask the President and Congress to require that Texas and all other states use the statistical sampling method, to make sure that every Texan is acccounted for. Statistical sampling is a scientific method that measures a small group and applies the figures to the population as a whole. The 1990 census was the first less accurate than its predecessors. Controversy over that count 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 federal government does not require the use of sampling, but states can choose to use this counting method. Barrientos mentioned a study that says half a million Texans were not counted in 1990, loosing much needed federal funds. The study also predicts the state will loose $1.9 billion ($1.7 billion of which would go to Medicaid) over the next decade, based on the projected undercount of the current census.
Senator Robert Duncan proposed a substitute motion, asking the members to wait for a decision until they receive the actual numbers from the census. Senator Florence Shapiro agreed, saying that based on an article from the Dallas Morning News, the Census Bureau has never done better, having already received 64% of the census forms originally sent out, compared with a total of 61% in 1990. Senator Steve Ogden mentioned the possibility of using the sampling method for funding purposes, but actual counting for redistricting.
Although everybody agreed this should not be a partisan issue, the vote was strictly along party lines, with Republican senators voting to wait for the actual numbers from the Census Bureau, and the Democrats supporting the use of the sampling method. The Republican majority on the committee prevailed.
The hearing was well attended by the public and local government officials, with more than thirty people testifying. Many of the witnesses asked the committees not to split cities or communities with common interests and to avoid gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district lines to give an advantage to the dominant party. One witness said that this has in the past created "spaghetti districts", very irregular areas where very close neighbors have different representatives. Some witnesses expressed that this highly partisan way to draw districts, where the majority of the people belong to the same party, creates voter apathy and legislators that go unchallenged.
The House of Representatives has a standing Committee on Redistricting, whereas the Senate Committee on Redistricting is newly selected every 10 years by the Lt. Governor. Members of the Senate Redistricting Committee include Co-Chairmen Senators Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay and Mario Gallegos of Houston. Also serving on the committee are Senators Mike Jackson of La Porte, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, Royce West of Dallas, Frank L. Madla of San Antonio, Florence Shapiro of Plano, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville and Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin.
Members of the House Redistricting Committee include Representatives Delwin Jones of Lubbock serving as chair, Bob Glaze of Gilmer, Fred Bosse of Houston, David Counts of Knox City, Jim Dunnam of Waco, Kent Grusendorf of Arlington, Bob Hunter of Abilene, Ken Marchant of Carrollton, Paul Moreno of El Paso, Jim Pitts of Waxahachie, and Ron Wilson of Houston.
Both committees stand in recess subject to call of the chairs.