AUSTIN — Texas’ redistricting maps that employ data from the 2010 U.S. Census are now under the scrutiny of a three-judge federal district court panel in San Antonio.
Passed by the Texas Legislature in May, the maps failed to receive preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice. The U.S. Supreme Court then gave the U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, the job of redrawing the state Senate, state House and congressional district boundaries in accordance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Critics of the proposed maps claim lines drawn by the Republican-dominated state Legislature dilute the voting power of communities of interest in several areas of the state.
House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, issued a statement on Nov. 22, asking the federal judges who drew a preliminary set of lines earlier this month, “to take into account the will of the people of Texas as expressed by their elected representatives.”
Straus went on to say, “If the final order of the court is not substantially closer to the plan we passed, I will urge (Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott) to seek an immediate stay from the U.S. Supreme Court so that several issues under the Voting Rights Act can be clarified before the federal judges impose their new map on Texas voters for the 2012 elections.”
On Nov. 27, Abbott filed emergency stays with the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the House and Senate redistricting maps drawn by the three-judge panel.
Texas Legislative Council on Nov. 23 posted the panel’s proposed sets of lines athttp://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.html.
Input received on DNA issues
A Nov. 22 interim hearing of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence focused on DNA testing, a subject drawn to the fore after the recent exoneration of an Austin-area man after he served 25 years in prison on a murder sentence.
Under the direction of Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, the committee heard invited testimony. Topics of discussion included testing technology, the integrity of evidence testing, testing centers and crime labs, the practicality of not destroying but retaining and storing evidence, and the cost of testing.
Also discussed were wrongful convictions, exonerations, the death penalty and criminal laws, all of which may be affected by changing technology in DNA testing and the handling of DNA evidence.
Lawmaker pleads in felony
State Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, has pleaded guilty to abuse of official capacity, a third-degree felony. First elected to the Texas House in 1992, Driver earlier said he would not run for reelection next November.
Driver’s pleading was made public Nov. 22 by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who said Driver is accused of converting more than $20,000 of state travel reimbursement funds intended for his campaign office holder account by depositing those funds into his personal account.
Sentencing is set for Dec. 19 in an Austin state district court. Under Texas law, the Travis County district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit is responsible for criminal investigations of state and federal officials.
Lehmberg recommended a sentence of five years deferred adjudication probation, a $5,000 fine and that Driver perform any treatment and counseling as recommended by the probation department.
Rainwater harvesting: input sought
With all eyes trained on the drought, two House bills and one Senate bill passed earlier this year by the 82nd Texas Legislature require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to develop rules for the installation and maintenance of rainwater harvesting systems. If built, these would be hooked up to public drinking water supply systems.
Public input is part of the rulemaking process. Texans who are interested in an opportunity to provide informal comments to staff prior to the formal rulemaking process may attend a rule stakeholder meeting on Dec. 6 at the TCEQ headquarters in Austin. More information is available at www.tceq.state.tx.us.
DPS gives holiday driving tips
In its Nov. 22 pre-Thanksgiving caution to motorists, the Texas Department of Public Safety urged drivers to:
Minimize distractions – Don’t text and drive and keep cell phone chatter to a minimum. Just drive. Don’t travel fatigued – Switch drivers or find a safe location and take a break. Adjust speed for weather, traffic conditions and emergency vehicles. Don’t drink and drive; designate a driver. Make sure everyone in the car is buckled up. Drive courteously.