Legislative wrap: Redistricting continues as state Senate/SBOE maps move forward; Gov. wants voting mistake penalties increased

Empty leather chairs and desks dot the green carpet of the Senate chamber
Photo by Crashworks

After several days of public and invited testimony, the Senate Redistricting Committee approved maps for the State Board of Education (SBOE) and state Senate districts this Tuesday. The committee approved the SBOE map unanimously, but the Senate district map was approved by a 12 to 2 margin after being amended by the committee. Both maps will likely see changes before they are finally approved by both houses of the Legislature and sent to Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed.

One of the primary points of controversy in the newly proposed map was its treatment of Senate District 10, represented by Sen.  Beverly Powell. The district, currently situated firmly in Tarrant County, was redrawn to contain more conservative voters from surrounding counties. Sen. Powell stated the proposed map would be “a direct assault on the voting rights of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and, if adopted, it would be an act of intentional discrimination.” 

In response to the proposed Senate map, the Texas Civil Rights Project stated: “In keeping with the Texas record of drawing discriminatory maps, the proposed [Senate] map does not give new representation to the exploding communities of color in Ft. Bend, Brazoria, Tarrant, & Collin Counties. Instead, it violently rips apart these communities to decrease their representation.” 

The proposed State Board of Education map, which is made up of 15 districts, did not make any significant changes to the current racial majority breakdown of the districts, but did make significant changes to the partisan breakdown. According to an analysis by the Texas Tribune, “Seven of the 15 (SBOE) districts went to Biden during the 2020 general election, but if the new proposal were in place, it would have lowered that number to five.”

This week proposed maps for U.S. congressional districts and Texas House districts were released by Republicans Sen. Joan Huffman and Rep. Todd Hunter. The congressional map adds two new districts, bringing the total number to 38 after Texas was reapportioned two new congressional seats due to population increases in the state. 

Despite the fact that 95% of the state’s population growth over the past 10 years came from communities of color, the proposed maps would reduce the amount of House districts in which people of color are the majority. This is the first time since the Voting Rights Act was first passed in 1965 that the Texas Legislature was allowed to redistrict without first getting federal approval. 

Governor adds increased penalties for voting mistakes to special session agenda

Although Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill in the previous special session—SB 1—that reduced penalties for illegal voting, he nevertheless has added to this special session’s agenda the call to increase them.

Abbott apparently is not content with the Legislature’s move that decreased the penalty from a second-degree felony (punishable for up to 20 years in prison) to a Class A Misdemeanor (punishable up to 1 year in jail). The intent was to allow flexibility in punishment for voters who make honest mistakes—such as not realizing they are ineligible to vote. 

House Speaker Dade Phelan, however, tweeted yesterday that he didn’t want to revisit the issue. “Instead, the House will remain focused on its constitutional obligation to pass redistricting maps, and members look forward to fulfilling this critical task.”