Redistricting Maps Draw Amendments in House

The Texas House went off script Thursday, adopting several amendments to political redistricting maps it initially intended to adopt without changes.

Update, 4:25 p.m.:

The Texas House tentatively approved congressional and Senate district maps with no changes, after passing a House district map with some tweaks. The congressional map was approved 93-48. The Senate map was approved 117-23. Both maps will go to Gov. Rick Perry's desk if they win final approval in the House.

Since state representatives amended the map of state House districts, House and Senate leaders will need to work out differences before the end of the special session on Tuesday to get that map to Perry's desk.

Update, 3:51 p.m.:

After about five hours of debate, the House adopted a map of the state's House districts on a 92-47 vote. Other than a handful of amendments endorsed by state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo and chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, lawmakers rejected repeated efforts to make major changes to the map, which is based on the court-drawn interim map that was used in the 2012 elections.

Original story:

A daylong debate on redistricting maps in the Texas House drew frustration from Democrats and growing concern from Republicans on Thursday as House leaders agreed to some amendments to one of the maps.

Gov. Rick Perry called the 83rd Legislature into special session in hopes it would ratify — without changes — the interim redistricting maps that a panel of federal judges drew for use in the 2012 elections. The Texas Senate did that earlier this month. But the House deviated, adopting three amendments on the state House district map moments after gaveling in.

The chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, told members from the start that he would be accepting “small, necessary tweaks” to the maps providing they meet specific criteria — unite communities of interest, are agreeable to members of neighboring districts and are in accordance with the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

In a matter of minutes, Darby approved, and the House adopted three such amendments. Two would swap out precincts between members of neighboring House districts. A third, by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, brings all of Texas A&M International into his district.

Beyond that, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, was among a handful of members who began questioning Darby, puzzled as to why amendments were being accepted when, he said, members had been told “any change made would open the door for other problems." He also cited the fact that the amendments hadn't come through committee.

Darby restated his criteria, adding that the amendments he's accepting don't impact geography or the demographic makeup of districts. With that, more members began filing amendments. Two more, which also swap out precincts between neighboring districts, were adopted. 

One amendment that altered the political lines shared by state Reps. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell, has drawn concern among some Republicans who are worried it may have been done to place the home of Matt Rinaldi, a former and potential future Republican challenger of Ratliff, out of that House district. 

Walking out of a House Republican caucus meeting, state Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, got into a heated exchange with Ratliff, drawing a small crowd of House members and reporters. "You're a big liar," Fallon yelled at Ratliff at one point before walking away. Both declined to comment.

Several Democrats made a point to get on record to highlight the flaws of the redistricting process. Leading that charge: state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

"I'm really concerned about how we did our jobs given the short amount of time we had and given extremely limited resources," Martinez Fischer said, adding that the 19-member redistricting committee lacked the presence of an outside counsel, namely the state's top prosecutor, Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Martinez Fischer's challenges to the process continued in the form of two amendments that were both tabled. And other Democrats, like Yvonne Davis of Dallas, who heads the House Democratic Caucus, were incensed that Abbott's office didn't send anyone to talk to the redistricting committee but was available to talk to Republican members during a break in the redistricting debate. 

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