Texas Gov. Calls 3rd Special Session, This One to Address Redistricting

September 9, 2021 by Dan McCue
A protester holds a sign outside where Texas Gov Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1, also known as the election integrity bill, into law in Tyler, Texas, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Now the governor wants the Texas Legislature to focus on redistricting. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

AUSTIN, Texas — It has been an unexpectedly busy summer for the Texas legislature, and now Gov. Greg Abbott is calling lawmakers back for its third special session in two months to begin the bound-to-be-controversial task of redrawing legislative and Congressional districts, among other items.

The new special session of the legislature will begin on Monday, Sept. 20, per Abbott’s order.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Texas’s population grew by more than 4 million people since 2010, and as a result, the state will gain two new Congressional seats, giving it 38 in total.

The legislature will also have to redraw Texas House and Senate districts to account for the growth, which has been largely driven by population surges in the state’s urbans areas and among Blacks and Latinos.

Responsibility for Texas’s new district maps rests with the Republican-controlled state legislature, subject to the Republican governor’s veto.

The criteria for drawing congressional maps in the state include each district ultimately being equal in terms of population, and that there be no racial or ethnic discirmination inherent in the drawing of the district line.

By law, the redistricting process in Texas must be completed by Dec. 13. But Texas Democrats are already trying to thwart Abbott’s plans.

Last week, two Democratic state senators, Sarah Eckhardt of Austin and Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio, filed a lawsuit in which they argued the Texas Constitution requires that redistricting be done in a regular session, and the next one will be in 2023.

If they prevail, it will be up to the court to create interim redistricting plans for the Legislature to use in the 2022 midterm elections.

Abbott has included four other items on his special session agenda. “In addition to redistricting, there are still issues remaining that are critical to building a stronger and brighter future for all Texans,” he said in a statement.

These other items include how to distribute federal pandemic aid and whether local governments can mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for employees.

The governor is also asking lawmakers to restrict the sports teams that allow transgender student athletes to play for them. 

Abbott named the policy a priority in the last two special sessions, but House Democrats managed to kill the measure each time.

The governor is also asking the legislature to revisit an issue that got him into some hot water earlier this year.

In June, despite being the owner of two dogs himself, golden retrievers named Pancake and Peaches, Abbott vetoed a bill that would have banned the use of heavy chains to tether dogs outside and made the unlawful restraint of a dog a criminal offense.

The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act was a priority this year for the Texas Humane Legislation Network, an advocacy organization that addresses state animal welfare laws. It was intended to clarify an existing law regarding the safety of dogs chained outside and make the law easier to enforce.

“Texans love their dogs, so it is no surprise that our statutes already protect them by outlawing true animal cruelty,” he said in a statement in June, but Abbott added, “Texas is no place for this kind of micro-managing and over-criminalization.”

The governor’s rejection of the bipartisan bill inspired a swift backlash and a new hashtag on Twitter, #AbbottHatesDogs.

He’s now calling on lawmakers to reconsider the bill and address his concerns.

State Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said Abbott was playing politics with his choice of special session topics.

“While parents, educators and health workers carry the weight of a deadly pandemic, Abbott actively sabotages their efforts to keep kids safe,” Anchía said in a statement. “Instead of leading, he is more focused on re-election politics while eyeing a presidential run.”

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