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Legislative Update - Oct. 1, 2021

Ed Sills
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Oct. 1, 2021 — #33
Third Special Session Edition, Day 12

Does anybody have a map?

Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?

I don't know if you can tell

But this is me just pretending to know

So where's the map?

I need a clue
Cause the scary truth is

I'm flying blind

And I'm making this up as I go

--Lyric from “Anybody Have a Map?” We don’t think the song from the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” was about Texas redistricting, but it does drop an f-bomb. Cast recording by Jennifer Laura Thompson:

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Braining the Map – This week saw the introduction of Texas Republican-drawn maps for the U.S. House and Texas House, joining previous drafts for the Texas Senate and State Board of Education. By the end of the week, with some of the criticism of the fractalized map patterns going bipartisan, the running rumor that it might take a fourth special session for the Legislature to complete redistricting remained alive and well. Less than halfway through this session, Gov. Greg Abbott acknowledged as much to reporters, suggesting a fourth special session might have to focus only on map-drawing until that task is complete. As has happened in the past, the current drafts may soon morph into birdcage lining.

Houses Divided – The Texas AFL-CIO criticized both the U.S. House (SB 6) and Texas House (HB 1) bills. The largest theme: Persons of color made up 95 percent of the state’s nation-leading population growth in the last decade but actually make up majorities in fewer districts. That places incumbency protection and raw seizure of political power ahead of communities of interest and acknowledgment of changing demographics. State labor federation President Rick Levy said the congressional map draws one less Latino-majority district and no Black-majority district, making it “illegitimate.” Levy said the Texas House map, which would INCREASE Anglo-majority districts from 83 to 89, forces the very populations that account for Texas’s growth to surrender power. Do the arithmetic: The 2020 U.S. Census says non-Hispanic Whites are 40 percent of the population; under the Texas House map, White majorities would reside in more than 59 percent of the House seats.

Up Close and Personal – When redistricting maps came out, some officeholders woke up to find they are “paired” with other incumbents in a district they don’t recognize. (Accompanying this phenomenon in the first Texas House map is the exodus of an El Paso district to Fort Bend County.) Lawmakers tend to take such incursions personally, and often they are right. The U.S. House map pairs two Democratic labor champions in the same redrawn Houston district: U.S. Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee. It also pairs another Houston Democratic labor champion, U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, against U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, in a district drawn to give Crenshaw more Republican voters. The Texas House map pairs two El Paso Democrats: State Reps. Lina Ortega and Claudia Ordaz Perez. It also pairs two sets of Republicans: Rep. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond, with Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton, and Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, with Rep. Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls. (Two more Democrats who would have been targeted by the map are not running for reelection: Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, who is reportedly planning to run for Congress, and Rep. John Turner of Dallas. In news that might actually be unrelated, another GOP takeover target, State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, announced he is not seeking reelection to his House seat.)

Runoff News – Texas House District 118 in the South Side of San Antonio will see a special election runoff between labor-endorsed Democrat Frank Ramirez and Republican John Lujan. State Republican leaders targeted the first round of the election with a high-dollar campaign and the two GOP candidates slightly outpolled three Democrats in a low-turnout first round. State and national Democrats have taken notice as Republicans weave a narrative that they are making major inroads into Latino districts that have traditionally voted Democratic. Ramirez is looking to succeed Leo Pacheco, who retired from the seat to take a college teaching job. Good omen: He survived to the runoff on a shoestring, winning votes by knocking on doors throughout the working-class district. The Texas AFL-CIO, San Antonio Central Labor Council and affiliates have committed to a grass-roots campaign to help turn out the 2,000 union members, plus family members, who reside in the district. Gov. Greg Abbott gets to set the runoff date, which could occur as soon as three weeks after the first-round votes become official. Take note: Whoever wins would run again in a higher-turnout 2022 general election. Lujan won the seat in a similar special election tiny-turnout situation some years ago, only to lose in the general election; he never cast a vote in the Legislature.

Full of Gas – A Texas Senate committee was shocked – shocked! – that a law aimed at addressing last winter’s ice storms that stranded millions of Texans in their homes without heat or water has a large loophole allowing natural gas companies to avoid winterizing their facilities. The hearing placed the Texas Railroad Commission, which has nothing to do with railroads, on the hot seat, which has everything to do with the fact the Texas Senate signed off on the loophole. Gov. Greg Abbott has claimed repeatedly that lawmakers did everything necessary to prevent another energy grid meltdown. Ratepayers are on the hook as part of this ticking time bomb. Read more:

Do-Overs – The refusal to revisit energy grid legislation doesn’t mean our Governor eschews do-overs. In fact, Texas saw a second round of highly questionable legislation dictating how social studies teachers may ply their profession this summer, and this week, Abbott added to the call of the current special session a highly politicized proposal to increase penalties for illegal voting from a Class A misdemeanor to a second-degree felony. SB 1, the notorious voter suppression bill, included the lesser penalties as part of a legislative compromise. House Speaker Dade Phelan tweeted that reduced penalties in SB 1 were “thoughtful amendments” and “now is not the time to re-litigate” the issue. Bob Garrett of the Dallas Morning News did the run-through:

RIP ‘Sissy’ Farenthold – Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, a high-minded progressive whose principles always came first, served in the Texas House as the only woman in the late 1960s and early 1970s, maintaining a 100 percent Texas AFL-CIO COPE voting record. After playing a major role in pursuing the Sharpstown scandals, which led to historic ethics reforms in Texas, and co-sponsoring the Equal Rights Amendment with Sen. Barbara Jordan, Farenthold ran for Governor twice, losing in a closer-than-expected 1972 runoff when the Democratic nomination was tantamount to election (and subsequently seeing her name placed in nomination for Vice President). She left politics after her 1974 gubernatorial run, became a college president and law professor, and mentored generations of women in politics (and plenty of men as well). Farenthold died six days shy of her 95th birthday. She will be greatly missed.

What’s Next – The House and Senate return Monday. The Senate Finance Committee will consider legislation on how to allocate more than $15 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding. Unions are advocating for a large portion of that funding to go to working families who have lost economic power in the pandemic. More to come.

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What is ‘one person, one vote’?
In the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court launched a series of rulings that the U.S. Constitution requires electoral districts to have roughly equal populations, giving voters across the state equal say in their governing bodies.

How does the doctrine apply to redistricting?
When lawmakers draw maps for Congress, the Texas House, the Texas Senate and the State Board of Education, the initial map must contain roughly equal districts and any amendment that moves a substantial number of people from one district to another must also give back a similar number.

Who counts?
Theoretically, everyone. The U.S. Census, which may have undercounts, is the official determiner of the “ideal” number of residents needed in any district. Finding that number is straightforward: For the Texas Senate, for example, divide the population of Texas by the Senate’s 31 districts; that number, which is approaching one million people per district, becomes the “ideal.” In the course of the next decade, as populations change and shift, the number of residents in each district could well become unequal, but the 2020 Census remains the measuring stick until the 2030 one is completed.

What about people who are not eligible to vote?
They still count for purposes of “one person, one vote.” That includes babies, undocumented persons, and anyone else who never registers. A right-wing-led challenge to the system claiming Texas could divide districts by the number of eligible voters rather than all residents failed unanimously in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Isn’t it hard to keep track of how many people are in a district during redistricting?
It was, in the past. Even a small amendment to a redistricting bill could take days to prepare to ensure compliance with “one person, one vote” and other requirements. But the software has become so powerful that the population count – though not the political considerations -- can be calculated relatively easily in 2021.

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ULLCO Positions on Bills

In deliberations this week, ULLCO:

OPPOSED SB 1 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston (companion is HB 89 by Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress), along with HB 90 by Oliverson. SB 1 would use billions of dollars in unspent state revenue to fund a temporary election-year-only reduction in school property taxes. HB 90 would dedicate certain “surplus” state funds to school property tax relief. While the claim of a tax cut may sound good, as it turns out, the bulk of the benefit from SB 1 would go to the wealthiest Texans, and working people might well lose money when other taxes are taken into account. See Every Texan’s analysis:

ENDORSED HB 101 by Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, which would appropriate federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide back pay of a flat $2 an hour for state employees who served at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Texas State Employees Union has taken a lead on this bill that would recognize the contributions of state employees in keeping state operations going during this difficult period;

OPPOSED SB 2 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, which would appropriate more than $7.2 billion – or about half the available ARPA funds – to the Unemployment Insurance fund to prevent employers from having to pay any tax increase in light of the millions of unemployment claims filed during the pandemic. The use of that high a percentage of the ARPA funds for what amounts to employer tax relief overlooks other major priorities that have not been addressed, such as health care;

ENDORSED SBs 30, 31 and 32 by Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas. SB 30 would allow state and local governmental entities to require COVID-19 vaccinations of their employees as a condition of employment. SB 31 would permit vaccine passports for businesses that sell alcohol at retail or for on-premises consumption. SB 32 would specify that no legal cause of action is created by a law forbidding other businesses from requiring vaccine passports;

OPPOSED the following bills that seek to stop COVID-19 vaccine requirements:

HB14 by Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands (prohibiting employee vaccine requirement when company received government contracts);

HB 18 by Toth (barring discrimination by businesses or unions against employees based on vaccine status);

HB 33 by Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City (barring hospitals and related businesses from requiring employee vaccines);

HB 37 By Rep. Candy Noble, R-Lucas (requires vaccine exemption option for employees for medical condition or “reasons of conscience”);

HB 39 by Noble (bars health plans from raising premiums or taking other action for those who refuse vaccines);

HB 74 by Toth (forbids exclusion from public schools of persons who refuse vaccines out of “conscience” or religious beliefs during emergencies);

HB 86 by Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington (prohibits vaccine passports);

SB 11 by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood (prohibits governmental requirement of vaccine passport, along with discrimination based on vaccine status);

SB 14 by Hall (prohibits vaccine requirements by governmental entities); and

SB 36 (prohibits use of state funds to enforce vaccine requirements).