A Victory for Texas Voters/Video of Sandra Bland Act Implementation & Opioid Crisis Oversight Hearing/2017 Texas Association of Counties Legislative Conference

A Victory for Texas Voters

Yesterday the federal three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously found that several district in the Texas House map are in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because the maps intentionally discriminate against people of color.  The court ordered that the nine districts, which are in four different counties must be redrawn to remedy the violation before the 2018 elections. The movement in these nine districts could have heavy implications on their surrounding house districts and their make-up. The four counties include Dallas, Nueces, Bell, and Tarrant.

In addition to the court ruling that the Texas House maps are in violation of the VRA, last week they ruled the Texas Congressional maps are in violation as well for intentionally discriminating against voters of color. The two invalidated districts named by the court were Congressional District 27, represented by Congressman Blake Farenthold (R- Corpus Christi) and Congressional District 35, represented by Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin).

This is a major victory for Texas voters. However, the war is not over. There are a couple of different scenarios that can happen now. Attorney General Ken Paxton will appeal the court’s order to the United States Supreme Court and ask for a stay on the order.If the Supreme Court does not take up the case or does not grant the stay there will be new Texas House maps for the 2018 election. The new Texas House maps will be drawn in one of two ways. The first option is the Governor can call for a second special session for the legislature to fix the maps. Under the court’s order this will need to be decided by this coming Tuesday, August 29th. The second option, if the Governor does not call a special session, then the three-judge panel court in San Antonio will redraw the maps starting September 6th without legislative input.

From 2000 to 2010, Latinos and African American’s accounted for 90 percent of the growth in Texas. This should’ve triggered not only more congressional seats but also important changes to the state house maps to properly represent the growth. This unfortunately was not the case and the courts substantiated the plaintiffs’ claims of discrimination with their decision. 

If the Supreme Court grants the stay and takes up the case, justice for Texas voters will be once again delayed. This would be the wrong decision and terrible for Texas voters as they would have to wait till 2020 to have a vote on maps that do not intentionally discriminate.

That is where we are now, but this has been a long time coming. 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. In fact, 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 voters of color. 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 including minority members of the Harris County delegation were not given an opportunity to demand a fair plan. I wrote a memo (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 of the 83rd Legislature, unfairly cracked communities of color and violated the Voting Rights Act. Even though 90% 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. I drew the map in my office which 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. By comparison, the Committee Substitute of HB 150 reduced the number of those districts to 51. My map was later used as a demonstration map for the three-judge panel in San Antonio to show that the current map is unconstitutional and discriminated against communities of color.

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. for President Obama’s Justice Department urging the Court to not approve the Texas electoral maps under the pre-clearance requirement of Section 5 of the 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 unconstitutional and discriminatory against minorities under the 14th amendment and Section 2 of the VRA. The demonstration map I drew in 2011 was presented to the court by Representative Trey Martinez-Fischer and the court recommended a similar district. My 2011 demonstration map would have solved the problem in Bell County by having Killeen and Ft. Hood in the same district, which is one of the four counties the court ruled yesterday that needed to be changed.

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 voters of color.

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.

Though the war on voting rights continues, 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.


Video of Sandra Bland Act Implementation &
Opioid Crisis Oversight Hearing

The House Committee on County Affairs that I chair held an oversight hearing at the Texas State Capitol on Tuesday.  The oversight hearing covered the implementation of the “Sandra Bland Act” (SB 1849) and the opioid crisis.  This hearing had invited testimony from various state agencies responsible for aspects of the Sandra Bland Act.  Additional invited testimony from advocacy groups and key stakeholders was given.

Below is a list of who testified and at what time in the recording their testimony begins for your convenience.

Panel #1- Advocacy Organizations Recommendations on Implementation

 

Begins at 0:02
Michele Deitch, Senior Lecturer
University of Texas School of Law and University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

Begins at 0:20
Chuck Wexler, Executive Director
Police Executive Research Forum (PERF)

Begins at 1:01
Fatima Mann, Co-Founder and Executive Director
Counter Balance Foundation, Counter Balance: ATX

Begins at 1:18
Greg Hansch, Public Policy Director
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Texas

Guest Speaker on Opioid Crisis & its Effects on Texas

Begins at 1:44
Matt Feehery, Senior Vice President and Chief Executive Officer
Prevention and Recovery Center Memorial Hermann

Panel #2- Inmate Health & Safety Implementation

Begins at 2:25
Esmaeil Porsa, MD, MPH, CCHP-A, Board Member Texas Commission on Jail Standards
Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy & Integration Officer
Medical Director, Dallas County Jail Health

Begins at 2:32
Robert Bredt, MD, Medical Director
Texas Medical Board

Begins at 2:39
Sonja Gaines, Associate Commissioner, IDD-Behavioral Health Services
Health and Human Services Commission

Begins at 3:06
Gina Carter, Director of Policy, Access, and Eligibility Services
Health and Human Services Commission

Panel #3- Law Enforcement Training & Implementation

Begins at 3:13
Sonia Garcia, Assistant Director, Education, Training and Research
Texas Department of Public Safety

Begins at 3:16
Chief Ron Joy, Assistant Director Texas Highway Patrol
Texas Department of Public Safety

Begins at 3:21
Chief Kim Vickers, Executive Commissioner
Texas Commission on Law Enforcement

Begins at 3:25
Sheriff A.J. Louderback, Legislative Chairman
Sheriffs’ Association of Texas

Panel #4- Statewide & County Implementation

Begins at 3:39
Brandon Wood, Executive Director
Texas Commission on Jail Standards

Begins at 4:11
Jim Allison, General Counsel
County Judges & Commissioners Association of Texas


2017 Texas Association of Counties Legislative Conference

As Chairman of the House Committee on County Affairs, I work closely with Texas counties as my committee vets and approves legislation that directly affects counties. On Thursday, I attended the 2017 Texas Association of Counties (TAC) Legislative Conference joined by Chairman of the Public Health Committee Four Price (R-Amarillo) on a panel to discuss the regional rural healthy community collaboratives included in the Sandra Bland Act that I wrote.


Chairman Coleman and Commissioner Rodney Ellis.


Chairman Coleman, Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and Chairman Four Price.


Chairman Coleman discussing the regional rural healthy community collaboratives that passed as a part of the Sandra Bland Act with Rick Thompson of the Texas Association of Counties.


Texas School Nurses Organization

Thank you to the Texas School Nurses Organization for this recognition. I am proud to be an advocate for our school nurses and students.

  

Let’s see what the courts make Texas do in these redistricting cases. Our song of the week is “Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift.

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