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North Texas Population Growth Will Drive Redistricting Debate
By Senator Jane Nelson
Since the last U.S. Census was taken in 2000, our state's population has undergone significant transformations. North Texas appears to have overtaken the Houston area as the state's largest population hub. Frisco and Lewisville are now more populated than Odessa and Wichita Falls. Denton's population exceeds that of Abilene, Midland and Beaumont. In South Texas, Laredo may have overtaken the Panhandle's Lubbock as the nation's 86th most populated city.
Texas' changing population will be at the heart of an issue that, along with the state budget, will dominate the next session of the Texas Legislature -- redistricting. After each decennial Census, the Texas Legislature is charged with drawing new legislative boundaries for our state's Congressional districts, along with maps for the Texas Senate, Texas House of Representatives, and State Board of Education.
The process is required of every state to ensure that our representative form of government truly adheres to the one-person, one-vote principle. That means making sure that each elected official represents roughly the same number of citizens in the halls of government.
Even though the official Census data will not arrive until the spring, a recently released report of population estimates indicate that Texas (which has grown from 20.9 million in 2000 to 24.8 million in 2009) is likely to gain at least three seats in Congress. Additionally, North Texas will likely gain seats, both in Austin and Washington. Frisco was named the fastest-growing city in the nation. Lewisville, Fort Worth, Carrollton and Denton were in the top 25 list of fastest-growing cities over 100,000 populations.
Another result of the population growth is that the number of people in each of 31 Texas Senate and 150 Texas House districts will increase. In 2000, the target population of a State Senate seat was 672,639. That figure is likely to rise to about 811,000. The population of an average Texas House seat was 139,012 in 2000. After the 2011 session, each House district is likely to rise to about 167,000 residents. State Board of Education districts could grow from 1.4 million to as many as 1.7 million after redistricting.
Maps of the new district lines will be presented to the Legislature in the form of bills that will move through the legislative process in the same manner as other legislation. The timetable is complicated. The Legislature won't have the official state population count until early April, leaving about two months to work out the maps before the May 30 session end. However, committees in both the Texas House and Texas Senate have been appointed and are in the process of conducting public hearings around the state. To learn more about the redistricting process, visit the redistricting home page for state government at http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.htm.
Redistricting may not be the most exciting issue that lawmakers debate next year, but it will be one of the most important. Decisions made on the state and federal level impact our tax burden, our regulatory climate, our schools, our roads and, of particular interest to me, our health. We need to ensure that North Texas has a strong voice under the new legislative maps, which will dictate the make-up of Texas' leadership over the next decade.
SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.