Texas House Map Ruled Unconstitutional / House Approves Major School Finance Reform

Texas State House Map Ruled Unconstitutional
Yesterday, April 20, 2017, a panel of San Antonio-based federal judges confirmed what we have known since 2011—that Texas lawmakers drew state House districts with the intent to discriminate against people of color.

There were many problems with these maps from the beginning. Before the first public plan was released in 2011, the overall plan was largely drawn in secret—no one saw a statewide plan until the first committee plan was released. I did not agree with the secrecy in which the maps were drawn as they excluded input from many Representatives of Harris County. This initial plan cut one seat from Harris County, which denied us the ability to create a new district for minority voters. Even worse, the map eliminated an additional district by pairing two incumbents who represented districts where minority voters could elect the candidate of their choice—in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The public and minority members of the Harris County delegation were not give an opportunity to demand a fair plan. On page 85 of the judge’s findings of fact, they cite a memo I wrote (click here to read) to map drawers on April 7, 2011 to demonstrate how the concerns of minority lawmakers were ignored.

The final plan, House Bill 150, unfairly cracked communities of color and violated the Voting Rights Act—just as the Court ruled yesterday. Even though 89% of the state’s population growth was driven by people of color, HB 150 did not create one new minority opportunity district. Instead, it effectively silenced the voices of the fastest growing populations in Texas in several districts where racial, ethnic and language minorities elected their candidates of choice.

I introduced a statewide substitute plan to the discriminatory plan of HB 150 to appropriately represent and protect communities of color in Texas. My plan would have increased the number of effective opportunity and coalition districts where African-American, Hispanic, and Asian voters could elect the candidate of their choice to 59. The Committee Substitute of HB 150, by comparison, reduced the number of those districts to 51.

I voted against the 2011 redistricting maps because they were retrogressive and in violation of the Voting Rights Act. I deemed it as a desperate power grab by partisans seeking to crack and pack communities of color into districts in order to dilute their voting rights.

I didn’t stop there. The day after the Texas House approved the maps, I wrote a letter to the Department of Justice bringing attention to the problematic and discriminatory maps, which you can read in its entirety here.

In 2012, I testified in Washington D.C. urging the Court to not approve the Texas electoral maps under the pre-clearance requirement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Before that case could be decided, the U.S. Supreme Court wrongly struck down the Section 5 pre-clearance requirement of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder – making the 2012 case moot. Before the Shelby County decision, Texas was subject to the pre-clearance requirement–meaning that changes made to voting laws and electoral maps needed to be first approved by the Department of Justice to ensure the changes were not discriminatory. Section 5 was vitally important in protecting the rights of people of color in Texas and across the south where there has been a history of voter suppression. Without Section 5 pre-clearance, discriminatory laws like voter ID and the current maps have been allowed to go into effect and determine the outcome of elections and balance of power in our state and nation.

Despite the setback, my colleagues, allies and I were not deterred and sued the State again in a San Antonio court that the maps as drawn were discriminatory against minorities under the 14th amendment. Additionally, our case against the State attempted to enact a previously little known section of the Voting Rights Act that provides another method to subject certain jurisdictions to pre-clearance. Jurisdictions can be “bailed in” to a pre-clearance requirement through a federal lawsuit. The current court has yet to decide if Texas should be bailed in to a pre-clearance requirement. However, recent victories show that it is a very real possibility Texas could be bailed in.

In 2014, my testimony in front of the three-judge panel in San Antonio helped the panel to determine that the Texas State House map discriminated against minority voters.

Yesterday’s ruling is a victory for all of us who have been fighting against these discriminatory maps for six years now. However, the Texas House Committee on Redistricting has not met since 2013—despite motions to discuss last month’s ruling and consider seven redistricting-related bills that have been referred to the committee. The redistricting battle will continue on April 27, when attorneys are scheduled to return to court.

It’s unclear when the legislature will be forced to draw a new map since the federal court did not immediately order a new one. Nevertheless, I am pleased to hear the Court made the correct ruling yesterday and I will continue to work with my fellow members to protect the voting rights of people of color in Texas.

Texas State House Approves Major School Finance Reform

This week, the Texas House voted 134-16 in favor of House Bill 21 authored by Chairman Dan Huberty. HB 21 addresses school finance reform by allocating $1.6 billion into public schools, simplifying the complex and outdated formulas for allocating that money, and targeting certain disadvantaged student groups for more funding. The Legislative Budget Board estimates about 96 percent of districts and 98 percent of students would see more money under the bill.

Here are some of the key provisions:

  • The House budget would set aside an additional $1.6 billion for public education—funding that is greatly needed to reduce the chronic underfunding of our schools.
  • HB 21 would boost per-student funding for nearly every public and charter school in the state while also reducing the amount of money wealthier school districts are required to give to less wealthy school districts. Known as the Robin Hood plan, the practice has become a hot-button political issue as large districts like Houston have recently had to begin making payments.
  • HB 21 would increase the basic funding for almost all school districts from $5,140 to $5,350 per student every year through an increase in transportation funding by $125 per student for all school districts, including property-wealthy ones that currently have limited access to that money.
  • HB 21 would increase the amount of money the state gives to schools for students with dyslexia and English language learners.
  • HB 21 would lower payments that property-wealthy school districts make to the state to subsidize property-poor school districts by $163 million in 2018 and $192 million in 2019.
This bill differs from the Senate’s version of the budget, which would cut state funding for public schools by $1.8 billion in general revenue, and use local property tax revenue to make up the difference. House Bill 21 still must be approved by the Senate before it arrives to the Governor’s desk.

Education is the great equalizer and I am dedicated to improving education for all Texans. I will continue to keep you updated on this important legislation.

Thank you to The Austin Chronicle for naming House Bill 2135 that I filed as Bill of the Week alongside my colleagues Representatives Sarah Davis and Jessica Farrar. Over 80,000 Texas mothers may suffer from postpartum depression (PPD) annually. That is why I filed HB 2135 that would expand CHIP services to include screening and treatment for postpartum depression to a year after giving birth. Increased access to screening and treatment for PPD is critical because a healthy mom equals a healthy baby. Click here to read more.

Our song of the week is “Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty.

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