Texas Senate set to take up redistricting bill

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Associated Press

Posted on April 16, 2013 at 5:03 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 16 at 5:04 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas senators are diving back into the issue of redistricting, a move that could unsettle the political calm of the legislative session so far.

The Senate State Affairs Committee scheduled a Thursday hearing on a bill that would accept as permanent the interim, court-drawn voting maps used in the 2012 general election.

Republican state Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter last month to House Speaker Joe Straus urging lawmakers to act to avoid further federal court intervention in the Texas maps.

The bill by Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who chaired the Senate redistricting committee in 2011, said his bill follows Abbott's lead to put in place permanent maps and clearly outline future election dates.

But the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, one of several groups that sued to block Legislature-drawn maps in 2011, responded to Abbott's letter with the San Antonio federal court that approved the interim maps. The group argues the interim maps for the Legislature and U.S. House districts might still not comply with the federal Voting Rights Act and may need further court action.

The Legislature redraws voting boundaries every 10 years for the state House, Senate, congressional districts and the state Board of Education to reflect population changes noted by the U.S. census.

Because Texas is one of several states with a history of voter discrimination, it is required by the Voting Rights Act to get federal "preclearance" for new maps and other election changes. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case from Alabama that challenges whether the preclearance requirement is constitutional.

Seliger acknowledged Tuesday that redistricting is a potentially divisive issue that often turns lawmakers, even political party colleagues, into rivals for voting boundaries. But he also noted that every current member of the Legislature was elected based on the maps he's trying to make permanent.

"I think everybody who thinks they could get a better deal, might try to do something else," Seliger said. "There has been almost none from the time the (interim) maps were agreed upon."

An identical measure has been filed in the House but it has not been scheduled for a committee hearing.

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