With the 2020 Census right around the corner, the Texas Legislature in gearing up for the next round of redistricting that will need to take place in early 2021.
State Rep. Phil King, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, came to Baytown Friday night to talk about the process and hear local feedback.
“We want everybody counted,” King said, stressing the importance of the census, “citizen, non-citizen, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives. Everybody wants everybody counted.”
The census count determines how many U.S. congressional seats each state will have, he said. Based on current estimates, Texas is set to gain at least three new seats—with one new seat likely in Harris County.
Texas has been growing at the rate of about 1,000 people a day, he said. About half of that is from births exceeding deaths, and about half is from people moving in from other states or countries.
“We have to re-draw the U.S. congressional lines, we have to re-draw the state senate, the state house, the state board of education, also the trial courts and the appellate courts,” he said.
The redistricting committee can’t actually start drawing lines until it receives census data, but is conducting forums now to look at what voters are looking for in redistricting.
Once data comes in, the schedule will be tight: The Census Bureau is required to have data to the states by April 1, 2021, and the legislature adjourns May 31. King said the Census Bureau has indicated it will try to get data to the larger states earlier, but still not before late February at best.
King said the redistricting committee has three priorities: Follow the law, have a transparent process, and be fair.
The process is challenging, as court rulings evolve. Courts require that the committee follows “traditional redistricting criteria,” including geographic compactness and keeping “communities of interest” together.
Texas is also governed by the Voting Right Act, which requires that boundaries not have the purpose or effect of denying anyone the right to vote based on race, color or language.
These priorities, he said, can compete with one another.
In traveling the state, he said the committee often hears that communities want district lines to follow existing political divisions—such as keeping cities and school districts in a single district (Baytown, for example, is split between three state congressional seats).
However, the law requires districts to follow county lines if possible—splitting cities like Baytown that include territory in multiple counties—and following city or school district lines could affect Voting Rights Act concerns.
The Redistricting Committee, he said, will receive suggested maps from numerous sources.
New this time, he said, the legislative website will be interactive enough that citizens will even be able to draw their own map suggestions, with the software calculating population and demographics of those suggestions. Those, too, can be submitted for consideration.
The website will give everyone access to the same demographic data that legislators have access to.
He noted that all the committee’s hearings are live-streamed, as are the House hearings and votes when it gets to that point.
The Texas House, King said, currently has a Republican majority, which is reflected in the Redistricting Committee makeup of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. King, a Republican from Parker and Wise Counties west of Fort Worth, chairs the committee, with Rep. Chris Turner, a Democrat from Arlington, serving as vice chairman.
As a first, step, though, King asked the audience to encourage people to respond to the Census questionnaires promptly.
He said that the census should include everyone living in Texas April 1. Non-citizens living in Texas should be reassured by the fact that the Census Bureau is forbidden by law from sharing any individual’s citizenship status.
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