Redistricting and transgender discrimination policies become law

This past Tuesday, several bills passed during last year’s third special legislative session went into effect. The third legislative special session was called by Gov. Greg Abbott last September to pass new district maps for the U.S. Congress, State Board of Education, Senate, and House, and to push a number of Republican priorities not passed during the previous regular and special sessions in 2021. The highly contentious HB 25, which bans transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identities, went into effect along with all four redistricting maps. 

Texas is the 10th state to pass a law similar to HB 25. The enforcement of similar laws in several other states has stalled due to ongoing legal battles. In a news conference celebrating HB 25 going into effect, the bill’s author, Valoree Swanson, hinted that she might introduce legislation to expand these restrictions to athletes at the collegiate level during the next session. 

UIL Deputy Director Jamey Harrison stated that school districts would be responsible for checking student athletes’ birth certificates to enforce the law. According to the new law, modified birth certificates are only accepted if they were changed to correct a clerical error, but it is uncertain how school districts will tell if a birth certificate is original or modified. 

With all four newly redistricted maps now in effect, voters will vote for representation in all of these new districts during the primary election on March 1 and then again during the general election on November 8, with possible primary runoffs occurring on May 24. Due to redistricting, every State Board of Education and Senate seat is up for election in 2022, as well as every State House and U.S. Congress seat, which are always up for election every two years.

The Biden administration has filed lawsuits to challenge Texas’ State House and U.S. Congressional district maps. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the redistricting plans “deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color or membership in a language minority group.” While partisan gerrymandering is legal, racially discriminatory gerrymandering is not. 

The maps are also being challenged in state court by lawmakers arguing that the state Constitution mandates that redistricting must be handled during a regular legislative session. Redistricting occurred during a special session called by the governor due to a disruption in Census data collection caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs also argue that the maps did not follow proper redistricting rules for keeping counties intact. The plaintiffs in the state court case stated they don’t seek to overturn the maps for the 2022 election cycle. They want the issue litigated so it can be addressed during the 2023 regular legislative session.   

SB 52, which had broad support from both parties, also went into effect Tuesday. SB 52 authorizes $3.3 billion in tuition revenue bonds for higher education institutions to finance construction projects.