Senate and House Redistricting Committees Meet in Houston
HOUSTON - The Senate Committee on Redistricting and the House Committee on Redistricting met together for a joint public hearing at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston Saturday, March 4, 2000. The committees are holding public hearings throughout the state to hear from the public relating to future legislative, congressional, and State Board of Education districts. Redistricting is the process of redrawing district lines as they relate to population after they take the national census every ten years. Both the United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution require the legislature to redistrict decennially.
The hearing began with a presentation from David Hanna of the Texas Legislative Council (TLC). TLC is a legislative support agency that assists both houses of the Texas Legislature in drafting laws. Hanna presented an overview of the redistricting process, including the Miranda warning, one person--one vote and its court origins and constitutional sources, terminology, and current law. The Miranda warning is included because of the numerous lawsuits surrounding the redistricting process. The committees then heard from Marshall Turner, Chief of Census 2000 Redistricting Office, and Al Mirabal, Regional Director of the Dallas Office of the Census Bureau, who discussed Census 2000 and Texas specific efforts.
Alan Ware, also representing TLC, gave a presentation on communities of interest, updated population projections for 2000 and a population overview for the Houston region. Ware's testimony included the court-defined traditional districting principles: compactness, contiguity, respect for political subdivisions, respect for communities defined by shared interests, preservation of cores of prior districts, protection of incumbents, and compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Communities of interests data has been gathered for all counties by county commissioner precincts, justice of the peace precincts, city limits, and school districts. Additional data has been collected for selected larger counties that are likely to be split by new district boundaries include high school attendance zones, single-member city council districts, city planning areas, recognized neighborhoods, and local policing areas. Ware's presentation showed that the twenty-four county Houston areas projected overall population growth is 21%, higher than the overall state rate of 20.5%. Eleven of the twenty-four counties grew faster than the state rate. Polk County's expected growth is 82%, they estimate that Fort Bend County's growth is 63.5%, and Montgomery County has a projected population growth of 62%. The actual census numbers will not be available until April of 2001.
Several local House members testified. Representative Rick Noriega testified about the potential undercount and its relationship to minority populations, particularly Hispanic populations. Representative Debra Danburg testified about the importance of similar community of interests and historically bonded areas when drawing new district lines. George Korbel, representing the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, testified about projected population growth in the Rio Grande Valley.
The committees received other testimony from Mark Campos, Ruth Wood, Johnny N. Mata representing League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Cruz Giovanni Garibay, Frank Denton representing the Conroe /Lake Conroe Chamber of Commerce, Edward Blume representing the Campaign for a Color-blind America, Olga Rodriguez representing Latina PAC (Political Action Committee), Wade Webster, Barbara Schwartz representing the League of Women's Voters in Houston and Montgomery County, and Stephen Damiani. Written testimony was submitted by Jerry Wood, Deputy Assistant Director of Planning and Development for the City of Houston.
The committees will continue holding hearings throughout the state to hear public input on the redistricting process. The committees welcome relevant testimony from any person, including anecdotal and narrative information, opinions, general impressions, suggestions for action, and information about specific candidates, elections, or districts.