Advocacy Blog

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

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.

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.

#Fairmapstexas

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