A state Senate redistricting panel voted Wednesday to make permanent the 2012 legislative and congressional maps, without changes.
The whole Senate is expected to debate the bills Friday. The Texas House has yet to vote on its own redistricting bills.
The senators on the panel declined to move forward with any tweaks to the interim redistricting maps, which were drawn for last year’s elections by a three-judge federal court panel in San Antonio.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, offered a plan to change the congressional map to create a Travis County-centered district.
Watson sought to protect the “tri-ethnic coalition” of African Americans, Hispanics and whites who voted to elect U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, in the old 25th Congressional District, which was reconfigured in the 2011 redistricting process and now runs from Austin north into the Fort Worth exurbs.
Watson said the district is considered a crossover district and deserves protection. He cited a plurality opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 that said it could be unconstitutional to dismantle such districts.
The senator also cited the opinion of two federal judges in Washington, D.C. who said Travis County’s tri-ethic coalition should be protected.
But the committee didn’t want to go along with Watson.
State Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Demcrat who carried Watson’s plan as an amendment, pulled it down before it was voted upon.
Watson said the panel failed to “recognize the constitutional and Voting Rights Act problems.”
“I’m not surprised,” Watson said after his plan died. “There has been a goal of just passing the interim maps.”
After the hearing, state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said it is important for Texans to get through this redistricting process.
“The people of Texas need to have elections that are on time,” he said.
As the ongoing redistricting saga creeps along, lawmakers are hopeful to conclude the matter by the end of the month, but it might not end there. It is likely that someone will take issue with the maps that are eventually approved , and take the matter to court.
At that point, the San Antonio panel again would end up in what Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith called in 2011 the “unwanted position of fashioning interim redistricting plans.”