AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Monday, state lawmakers gaveled in for the start of the third-called special session this year.
The Governor has added several items to his agenda this session, but one of the biggest is redistricting.
Tensions were already running high during the last special session, when Democrats broke quorum to fight the controversial elections bill that made national headlines.
But redistricting causes tension of its own, and with only 30 days to get it done, lawmakers need to move swiftly.
“This is a much more discreet special session, much more narrow call,” State Rep. Erin Zwiener, (D-Driftwood), said Monday from the Capitol. She explained why redistricting causes so much tension.
“You can minimize the power of people’s votes by either drawing them into very compact districts that only have people of a particular interest group,” Zwiener said.
State Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) explained lawmakers are trying to ensure they still represent the constituents they’ve grown to know, which can cause fighting even within party lines.
“We all know our neighborhoods that we represent. And if you’re oversized, you want to give up the ones that you don’t like as much. And if you’re undersized, you want to pick up the ones that most likely would support you. And so even among parties, members of the same party, you can have some pretty strong conversations about who’s going to have to give up and who’s going to need to pick up,” Murphy said.
In the past, it’s ended up in the courts, which is expected again this time around.
“Our job as Democrats is to build a strong record,” Zwiener said.
Texas lawmakers no longer need pre-approval from the federal government before adopting its new maps. That’s because a 2013 Supreme Court decision removed the preclearance requirement of the Federal Voting Rights Act.
“The biggest difference in this process in the process this time, compared to the last two redistricting fights, is that the Voting Rights Act has been significantly weakened as a tool for oversight in being alert to racial discrimination in the drawing of the maps,” Jim Henson with the Texas Politics Project explained.
“The gutting of the Voting Rights Act didn’t make racial discrimination legal in the redistricting process. What it did was it reduced the avenues for, you know, for legal recourse,” Henson continued.
“We don’t have as much protection as we used to in the courts, we are still hoping that that might change and that the U.S. Senate might move the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that would restore those protections,” Zwiener explained.
Republicans vow to draw the lines fairly, though, and get it done in 30 days.
“We’ll make sure that every vote counts, and I feeling really good about the way the amount of preparation that’s taking place, it’s going to position us to get this done in just a few weeks,” Murphy said.
Other items on this session’s call include banning businesses from mandating COVID vaccines, and a bill that would require Texas students to play sports based on their biological sex, rather than sexual identity.