Advocacy Blog

April 14, 2021

The Fight Continues for a Fair & Open Process

In light of what happened surrounding SB 11 (please see the subsequent blog post below), it is clear that the State has not learned from the mistakes that were made in the 2011 and 2013 redistricting cycles, even after a federal district court specifically called out the flawed process that the State used to draw the maps in 2011 at the bail-in hearing for preclearance. To keep the pressure on the State and to hold them accountable, we are calling on the House Redistricting Committee to hold a committee hearing for HB 3112, the Redistricting Transparency Act. This bill would take steps to create a "fair and open" process, like the federal district court called for.  It would require the State to:

  • Hold public input hearings, both before AND after the census data is released to the State. It would also require a public input hearing to be held after the maps have been drawn BUT before they are adopted.

  • Create and maintain a website to be used for for posting notices of public hearings, accessing census data, posting maps for the public to view, and also serve as a portal for the public to submit maps. 
     

  • Disclose data sources by requiring the State to share at least eight different types of factual information pertaining to any redistricting plan at least 72 hours, including: 

    • all data relevant to the plan or in any way descriptive of a population residing in a geographic area included in the plan – in a form reasonably usable by the public; 

    • any facts obtained from consulting experts relevant to the plan; and 

    • an affirming statement explaining the committee’s reasons for proposing the plan as well as any dissenting statements.

If the State truly intends to hold a "fair and open" redistricting process, then there should be nothing stopping them from adopting HB 3112.

Read the Letter that we sent to the House Redistricting Committee requesting a hearing, outlining the mistakes the Senate made on SB 11, and reminding the Committee of the Judge's comments from the bail-in hearing.

One Pager on HB 3112

April 8, 2021

How Do We Address the Pattern of Discrimination?

For those of you who might have missed it, Senator Joan Huffman, Chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, withdrew SB 11 from the Legislature, a bill that would have redistricted our Courts of Appeals. This was a very unusual step to take during the legislative session.

Below is the blog post I wrote on the events surrounding SB 11. The map proposal likely would have violated the Voting Rights Act, and the State potentially could have been put back under preclearance.

Senator Huffman Withdraws SB 11

In a rather unusual move, Senator Joan Huffman has withdrawn SB 11, a bill that would have vastly restructured our Courts of Appeals (COA) districts. The bill was conceived by a group called Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and it was a solution in search of a problem. The bill would have consolidated our COA districts from 14 down to 7, and the proposed districts would have encompassed rather large swaths of the state. The group claims that redistricting was needed to balance the caseloads amongst the courts and correct the district overlaps. They claimed that this would make the courts more efficient. However, current sitting Justices on the Court stated that they were not consulted about this restructuring, nor were they provided the opportunity to give input on the problems that this bill tried to address. Many Justices stated that this redistricting was a partisan power grab by conservatives, and that the proposed districts would disenfranchise communities of color across the state.

Our judicial districts do not have to be equal in population size, which is why this bill could move forward without the new census data being delivered to the state. The last time our Courts of Appeals were redistricted was in 1981, and there probably are some changes that could be made to make the districts more balanced. However, such a huge restructuring of the courts — as outlined in this bill — is very alarming, especially since the proposed map did not follow the typical procedures used during the legislative redistricting process:

-The bill was sent to the Jurisprudence Committee instead of Redistricting, possibly with the intention of ignoring the procedures used to draw VRA-compliant maps.

-No public input hearings were held for this map proposal, and VRA-protected groups were not given the opportunity to provide input.

-No maps were visible for the public to review. The map proposal was officially revealed to the public at the committee hearing as a committee substitute.

-The bill's author, Sen Joan Huffman, is also the Chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee and should be well aware of the procedures used to bring legislative map proposals forward. Afterall, the Senate Redistricting Committee just wrapped up their public input hearings for the next round of redistricting.

Fortunately, the map was posted on social media 3 days in advance of the hearing, and multiple voting rights attorneys and advocates were able to evaluate the proposed districts for compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Nina Perales with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund provided testimony showing clear evidence that the proposed map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. On top of that, the Texas Civil Rights project found evidence of intentional distriscmination in the map. My testimony on the failed process can be found on the League's website (link below). Sitting Justices from all across the State, both Democrats and Republicans alike, traveled to the Legislature for the bill's hearing. Not one Justice supported the bill. The only person that supported it was the lobbyist for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Despite the overwhelming opposition to the bill, the Committee voted to advance the bill out of Committee to the Senate floor, a vote down party lines.

If the Legislature had gone on to adopt the plan, and if a court found that the district plans intentionally discriminated against voters of color, then the mistakes made by the Legislature would have made a strong case for putting the state back under the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. (Preclearance would require the state to get pre-approval from a federal authority before making any changes to election laws.) The federal district court in San Antonio that reviewed putting the State back under preclearance in 2019 actually called out the exact same problems in the 2011 round of redistricting:

"U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, one of the panel’s three judges, asked if the TX Attorney General's office could guarantee that Republican lawmakers will not repeat abuses the court had criticized in the 2011 redistricting effort, including hearings held in hard-to-find locations with little notice and “no maps visible for the public.”

“If the state won’t stipulate to that, how can you tell me that (preclearance) relief isn’t justified?” Rodriguez asked." (https://www.statesman.com/.../texas-redistricting-fight...)

The methods being used by Sen Huffman to draw the proposed Courts of Appeals districts are a huge red flag and need to be called out. Members of the Fair Maps TX Coalition are currently writing letters to the Senate to document what happened and demand that they take steps to create a "Fair and Open" process, like the federal district court asked them to do. We are also using these events to push the House Redistricting Committee to hold a hearing for HB 3112, the Redistricting Transparency Act, that would take steps to create a "fair and open" process. Be on the lookout for an Action Alert for HB 3112 shortly!

link to full blog (found at bottom of webpage): https://my.lwv.org/texas/redistricting

March 13, 2021

Making the Public Input Hearings More Inclusive

 

The Houston Department of Transformation, a grassroots organization in the Houston area that works on kitchen table issues, worked hard to mobilize their community, which primarily consists of Spanish speakers, to participate in the Senate's public input hearings. They reached out to Fair Maps TX to get help with arranging for an interpreter for the hearings.  We were very disheartened and taken aback that the Senate Redistricting Committee would not provide one. They said that a Committee member would be able to provide translation at the hearing. This was not acceptable, as they could not guarantee that a Spanish-speaking committee member would be present at the time of testimony. That also meant that if someone spoke a language other than Spanish, chances are that they would not be able to participate in the hearing. This event potentially could have run afoul of the Voting Rights Act by preventing language groups that are protected under the Voting Rights Act from participating in the electoral process.

 

As a result, we sent the Senate Redistricting Committee a letter requesting that an interpreter be provided. The League of Women Voters of Texas went ahead arranged for an interpreter for the Spanish speaking community.  Fair Maps TX and our community partners also recruited people from the TX Asian American Pacific Islander communities to provide in-language testimony at the hearings.  We had a total of 6 different languages represented!  The Committee also decided to hire an ASL interpreter for the remaining hearings.

Click here to watch the hearing that had 6 languages represented.

Click here to read the letter that we sent to the Senate Redistricting Committee.

Click here to read the Response from Chair Huffman

 

 

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January 13, 2021

 

PRESS RELEASE: Fair Maps Texas Urges Changes to Texas Senate's Redistricting Rules for the 87th Legislative Session

 

After 8 years of protracted litigation and findings of both intentional, racial discrimination and constitutional violations, the State of Texas is setting itself up for a repeat of what happened in the last decade. The Senate's draft rules show few changes in the procedures and timelines that led to the legal problems that we saw in 2011 and 2013. Underlying much of that federal litigation were rule and procedural problems that were (and still are) rooted in a fundamentally broken process which prioritizes backroom dealing with no public participation or transparency.  Despite a court's finding of racial discrimination in the 2011 maps, the state will be drawing new maps in 2021 without any federal oversight whatsoever, and that is why it is imperative that changes be made now to the rules and procedures that the Senate will use to draw the 2021 maps.

 

A federal judge who was part of a panel that reviewed putting the state back under preclearance in 2019 asked the state to commit to holding, “full, fair, transparent public hearings after the census data is released and that there will be full, fair, transparent hearings held with maps visible for the public to see and actual hearings, as opposed to what took place in 2011, with votes held in public with ample notice.” In the court's ruling, he stated, "Texas would be well advised to conduct its redistricting process openly, with the understanding that consideration of bail-in is always an option for whatever federal court or courts may be tasked with review of future legislative actions.” 

 

Taking into consideration these statements from the federal court, it is essential that the Senate lay out rules and procedures now that will prevent the problems that we saw in 2011 and 2013 from occurring once again. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a call for added procedures to ensure the public can safely participate in the map-making process. 

 

The following changes need to be made to the Senate's proposed rules:

  • ensure virtual hearings take place after the census data is delivered to the state, 

  • increase the amount of time given to review maps to at least 7 days,

  • extend the amount of time given to review amendments.  Judge Rodriguez already stated during litigation that 24 hours was vastly insufficient.  24 hours is not even enough time for legislators to review the amendments let alone the public,

  • give notice to the regional public input hearings at least a month in advance, so that the public has time to be notified and can make plans to participate,

  • there be full disclosure of the data used to draw the maps and a report issued on the thought process that went in to drawing the maps.

To read Fair Maps TX's list of proposals that were sent to the House and Senate Redistricting Committees and the working group for House rules: https://www.fairmapstexas.org/advocacy-updates

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January 7, 2021

Letters Sent to the TX House and Senate About Procedural Rules Pertaining to Redistricting 

 

As part of our ongoing advocacy efforts to hold the txlege accountable this redistricting cycle, Fair Maps Texas along with a group of voting rights and community organizations have sent the House and Senate leadership yet another letter, this time about the procedural House and Senate rules that need to be in place to have a fair and open redistricting process.  As you are probably aware, Texas has a long history of discrimination when it comes to redistricting.  The state has been found to have intentionally discriminated or violated the Voting Rights Act in every decade for the past 50 years. Moreover, Texas was the only state in the nation that did not gain preclearance of their maps in 2011, and the courts found those maps to be intentionally discriminatory.  While the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas ultimately did not put the state back under preclearance under Section 3 of the VRA, Judge Rodriguez did issue a stern warning that Texas must have a "fair and open" process this next time around. The recommendations for the House and Senate rules included in these letters are designed to address the previous concerns raised in federal court. 

Read Representative King's and Senator Huffman's response to the letters we sent requesting virtual hearings (our letters can be found below).

RESPONSE FROM Representative King

RESPONSE FROM SENATOR HUFFMAN

December 2, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: Fair Maps Texas Sends Letters to House and Senate Redistricting Committee Requesting to Hold Virtual Public Hearings on Redistricting; Plans Its Own Virtual Public Input Hearings on Upcoming State and Federal Redistricting Process 

Fair Maps Texas, a nonpartisan coalition working to reform the broken redistricting system in Texas, today announced it has sent letters to the Texas House and Senate Redistricting Committees reiterating the need for public input hearings for the next round of redistricting to continue during the interim as well as after the census data is released, with accommodations for Texans to testify during the upcoming legislative session that allow for oral, public testimony to be collected remotely.  Both the House and Senate Redistricting Committees have postponed their public input hearings due to COVID, and as of March 2020, the House Redistricting Committee had only held 13 of the 25 scheduled public input hearings, and the Senate Redistricting Committee had yet to hold a single hearing.

 

To make sure Texans’ continue to be a part of the legislative process, Fair Maps Texas will be holding two virtual public input hearing on December 8th and 10th. The purpose of the hearings is to solicit public testimony about a region’s unique geographic and demographic characteristics from those residents most familiar with their own neighborhoods, as well as ideas to improve the upcoming redistricting process. The testimony is meant to provide context to the 2020 Census data and assist the Texas State Legislature when it draws state and federal district boundaries to ensure lines are drawn to keep a community whole and grouped with nearby communities with similar interests.

 

Fair Maps Texas believes the public has a right to be a part of the policy-making process, despite the Legislature’s unwillingness to adapt to a virtual hearing format as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Fair Maps Texas’s virtual public input hearings will allow the public to continue to be a part of the legislative process, and although these hearings will be unofficial, a transcription service will be provided so that written testimony can be submitted directly to both the House and Senate Redistricting Committees to become a part of the official record.

 

 

Virtual Public Input Hearing Event Details: 

What: Virtual Public Input Hearings 

Statewide Focus: Tuesday, December 8 at 6:00 PM CST – Register here

South TX Region Focus: Thursday, December 10 at 6:00 PM CST – Register here

Participants: Texas residents will be providing testimony and local Texas state legislators are invited to attend.

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June 8, 2020

As the Governor expands the list of businesses and institutions that can reopen after the shutdown, there is one glaring omission from the list: the Texas Legislature itself.  Both the House and Senate started postponing public hearings back in February, and neither have released a plan for how hearings will proceed given the ongoing public health crisis.

 

While the Legislature is currently out of session, there is still important work that must be done in order to prepare for the next legislative session, like the work of the State’s Legislative Budget Board and the House and Senate Redistricting Committees.  While the COVID pandemic has put a significant strain on our state, the government must remain functional, and the public has a right to be a part of the policy-making process. We cannot let public access to meetings and information about government business to retrench.

As such, a broad group of organizations have come together to urge House and Senate leadership to develop a contingency plan to allow for public hearings to continue with virtual accommodations in order to prioritize the health and well-being of our residents. 

Summer 2019

 

In response to the letters that we sent to the House Redistricting Committee (found below), the Committee decided to double the number of public input hearings from 14 to 28, agreed to post notice of the hearings 30 days in advance, and agreed to post hearing notices in both English in Spanish.  Fair Maps Texas is now requesting your help notifying the public and other community groups about these hearings.  

Spring 2019 

Members of the Fair Maps Texas Coalition, along with partnering organizations, communicated with the House Redistricting Committee in regards to the location and organization of public input hearings that are to be held before the next round of redistricting in 2021.  We were deeply concerned that some of the same mistakes that were made during the 2011 Field Hearings were being made once again.  

 

Some of the concerns discussed in these letters were also cited as shortcomings of the 2011 redistricting effort by U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez during the recent hearing in which the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas reviewed evidence for the bail-in provision of Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Judge Rodriguez asked if the Attorney General’s office could guarantee that Republican lawmakers will not repeat abuses the court had criticized in the 2011 redistricting effort, such as, “hearings in hard-to-find locations with little notice” and “no maps visible for the public.”

 

Fair Maps Texas would like to make these letters available for everyone to review.

Fair Maps Texas calls on the House Redistricting Committee to hold a public hearing for HB 3112, the Redistricting Transparency Act