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April 14, 2020

Trump Census Extension Could Strip State Lawmakers
of Redistricting Task and Force Job on Federal Courts

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

President Donald Trump's plans to delay the census count could throw the task of Texas legislative and congressional redistricting into the federal courts in 2021 in a process that could spell doom for the GOP in the Lone Star State.

A 120-day postponement that the president said on Monday that he'll request could effectively strip the decennial process of redistricting from state lawmakers who have the constitutional duty to draw new boundaries for Texas House and Senate districts and the U.S. House map here as well.

Trump's current proposal could make it impossible for the Texas Legislature to undertake redistricting during the 2021 regular session because state and local governments wouldn't receive the population data on which the process is based until the end of July next year.

Governor Greg Abbott could call a special session in August or shortly thereafter in such an event to give state lawmakers a chance to redraw their own districts and to design a new congressional map that will have an indefinite number of new districts as a result of explosive growth in Texas during the past decade. But the Legislature would have to move at breakneck speed under that scenario to have any hopes of preventing a delay in the 2022 elections.

With a myriad of variables coming into play, the dramatic complications that Texas could face if Congress grants Trump's push to delay the census make it difficult if not impossible at this point to know what might happen with redistricting with such an event. Here's a possible scenario.

The Legislative Redistricting Board would be required to produce new state House and Senate maps if the Legislature failed to approve them in its first regular session after the official publication of the new Census information that will reflect population shifts in the nation's fastest growing state. But state legislators might not get a chance to tackle redistricting in a regular session until 2023 if Trump's wish for an extension is granted.

There's a very realistic chance that the LRB would be compelled to draw the new House and Senate lines if the Census stays on schedule. The LRB would face that task if a House or Senate plan receives the population data during the next biennial gathering but failed to approve redrawn maps for one or both chambers.

But the LRB apparently wouldn't come into play until three years from now at the earliest if the official information on population changes in Texas doesn't arrive until after the 2021 regular session. The LRB that will have at least four Republicans on a five-member roster next year would have 90 days after the regular session to do the job if lawmakers get a shot at the new maps during the 2021 regular session.

The Democrats will at least one seat on the LRB if they reclaim the House majority this fall in a development that would almost certainly culminate in the election of one of their own as the new speaker in January. But agreements on House and Senate plans by at least three GOP members on the LRB could be complicated significantly by internal Republican politics with Land Commissioner George P. Bush eyeing a possible bid to unseat Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in 2022.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Comptroller Glenn Hegar - a pair of former Republican House and Senate members - will be serving on the LRB if it's convened next year with Patrick, Bush and a new House leader who's elected to replace outgoing GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen.

But the LRB would only have 90 days from the day that the Legislature adjourns in the regular sessions in 2021 or 2023 to vote on new maps that would take considerable time to draft in light of substantial population shifts that will culminate in new House seats in fast-growing suburban areas in the state's largest cities at the expense of rural Texas. The 2022 elections here would be held on temporary maps that a federal court would have to scramble to produce.

While Paxton would probably be on the same page with Patrick on new maps as the LRB's two most conservative members, Bush might be more inclined to support alternative plans for both chambers that would ensure more representation in Hispanic areas as a statewide leader who's mother is Colombian. The Texas land chief's father is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's son. Hegar could be a wild card if the Republicans on the LRB are split.

The federal courts would rearrange legislative district lines here if the LRB failed to reach agreements by the deadline next fall. A new congressional map in a special session that wouldn't get under way until August next year if Trump has his way with the census might be an unrealistic goal in light of the constitutional time constraints.

Texas for the first time will not be required to obtain preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice for new maps like it had to do in the past. But redistricting plans that the LRB could try to approve in record time will be challenged in the federal courts and have little chance of being in place in time for the 2022 elections under the census extension scenario.

The Texas population had swollen to almost 29 million by last summer according to census estimates - an increase of more than 15 percent with 18 months to grow more before the 2020 tally is finalized. Democrats will expect to gain seats in both legislative chambers in a state where the Hispanic population has grown faster than any other demographic segments by far. The addition of more electoral voting districts that are designed for Latinos would have the effect of boosting the number of Democratic lawmakers at the Capitol in Austin.

more to come ...

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