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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Redistricting solutions: One down, two to go
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 • Posted February 23, 2012

AUSTIN — Redistricting work continued last week and one part of the puzzle was solved.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, on Feb. 15 announced an agreement with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott that will keep her Senate District 10 boundaries as they were in 2001, instead of the version state lawmakers enacted last spring. Davis is plaintiff and Abbott defendant in one of three ongoing redistricting lawsuits. The GOP-dominated Legislature reconfigured SD-10 in a way that divided traditional communities of interest and would have made it nearly impossible for Davis, a freshman elected in 2008, to be reelected.

On Feb. 17, state Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, released a statement alleging discrimination against Latino and other minority voters in the creation of the state House and congressional plans, and added, “As such, MALC cannot set aside its principles for the sake of expediency.”

So, still up in the air are Texas’ U.S. congressional and state House district maps, the subjects of two consolidated multi-plaintiff lawsuits, both known as Perez v. Texas. If settled, those sets of maps, along with the agreed-upon state Senate district map, still must be submitted for preclearance in accordance with the U.S. Voting Rights Act. When or if that occurs, state party primaries could be set on a single date, and the path paved toward the picking of nominees who will face each other in the November general election.

But likelihood of this time-consuming litigation was forewarned during the regular session of the Texas Legislature when Democrats, in the face of a Republican supermajority, protested the drawing of maps that would not reflect the growth of minority populations, and Latinos most pointedly, between Census 2000 and Census 2010.

Republican majorities in both houses of the state Legislature nevertheless pushed through House, Senate and congressional redistricting maps that sparked federal lawsuits, and those maps have been in litigation ever since.

Two weeks ago, Attorney General Abbott optimistically suggested that April primaries were still attainable. But, because of candidate filing periods and ballot printing deadlines — and because revised state House and U.S. congressional districts are not settled — and because the preclearance process through the U.S. Department of Justice and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will need to be satisfied — it may be late May before the primaries can be conducted.

It’s generally accepted that the earlier a state’s primaries are conducted, the greater the influence on the presidential race because of momentum-building and fund-raising. But Texas’ high-stakes battles for increased representation between partisan and non-partisan constituencies have pushed the primaries later and later on the calendar. Some say that the power of the Texas vote is diminished or even nullified. But with its 36 congressional seats and a winner-takes-all rule on election night in November, the importance of Texas can still pack a wallop in the presidential race.

Grading requirement on hold

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott last week announced his decision to allow school districts and charter schools not to implement a 15 percent grading requirement in the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness end-of-course examinations for the 2011-2012 school year.

The requirement, which would have made an end-of-course exam count as 15 percent of a student’s grade, was included in the Texas Legislature’s House Bill 3 enacted by the previous Legislature. The requirement was meant to enhance accountability, lawmakers said in 2009.

Scott said he made the decision to defer the requirement after receiving input from parents, educators, State Board of Education members, and statutory clarification from state leaders.

“For this school year, the ultimate decision whether to include end-of-course exam scores as part of course grades will be determined locally by school districts and charter schools,” Scott said.

Ames-Jones resigns to run

Texas Railroad Commission Chairwoman Elizabeth Ames-Jones of Austin resigned from office last week, the state agency that regulates oil and gas announced last week.

A former member of the Texas House of Representatives and an RRC member since 2005, Ames-Jones is running against long-term incumbent and fellow Republican state Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio for Senate District 25, which runs from San Antonio to Austin. The district includes parts of Travis and Bexar counties and Kendall, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays counties.

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