Senate Meets to Consider Redistricting Proposals
AUSTIN - The members of the Senate discussed proposals for the redrawing of their own district lines as a Committee of the Whole Senate this morning.
Meeting as a Committee of the Whole allows the Senate to work under committee rules instead of stricter session rules.
Senate Redistricting Committee Chair Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio laid out the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 499, the bill he authored that contains the proposed new boundaries for Texas' 31 senate districts.
Every ten years, following the U.S. Census, Texas' state senate, state representative, Congressional and State Board of Education (SBOE) district lines are redrawn.
Wentworth said CSSB 499 is "as fair, I believe, as we can make it."
"Balancing this Senate with 16 Republicans and 15 Democrats, neither party can pass this plan without help from the other," Wentworth said. "So, we tried to make it as fair as we could."
CSSB 499 would not pit one incumbent senator against another. The bill also splits only 12 of Texas' 254 counties. Ten years ago, 33 counties were split.
Most importantly, Wentworth said the plan complies with federal redistricting laws.
"Coming out of a 7 to 1 vote by the Senate Redistricting Committee," Wentworth said, "I don't believe the Senate could go very wrong if we simply adopted this plan without any amendments."
Several other plans were laid out, but only two by Waco Sen. David Sibley were formally proposed.
Sibley said each of his proposals complies with all legal requirements, but both were criticized as too partisan by several members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, who endorsed CSSB 499.
The Senate will meet again tomorrow to discuss redistricting proposals. Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff said he tentatively plans to take the matter up for debate and a possible vote on Monday, although he added the Senate could take action as soon as Saturday.
"We have three plans before us now, so the members know at least which plans they'll be working off of," Ratliff said.
The prospect of a special session for Congressional redistricting is increasingly likely, Ratliff said. Redrawing of Senate, House and SBOE districts is not subject to a special session if the Legislature cannot work out plans in the regular session. If state redistricting is not done by the end of the regular session, the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is composed of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the House, comptroller, attorney general and land commissioner, would take up the task.
In today's session, the Senate passed several bills, including one authored by Houston Sen. Jon Lindsay that would put in place stricter foreclosure guidelines for property owners' associations.
Lindsay cited a recent case in his district in which a property owners' association foreclosed on an elderly woman's house because of $800 in back association dues. The woman's home was sold at far less than its appraised value while she received nothing from the sale.
Senate Bill (SB) 1834 would require a property owners' association to reimburse a property owner if it sells a foreclosed property for less than its value. Lindsey also added an amendment to the bill that would set tougher procedures and guidelines property owners' associations must follow before foreclosing.
The Senate also passed SB 927, a measure authored by El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh that would make it easier for schools to accept used computer equipment.
The Senate stands at recess until 8 a.m. Thursday, when bills on the Local and Uncontested Calendar will be taken up. After that, the members will meet as a Committee of the Whole Senate. The Senate will reconvene at 10 a.m.