Redistricting Map Draws Lawsuit

Houston rep questions state's method of counting population

State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, has filed suit in the U.S. Western District Court of San Antonio over how Texas uses population numbers in redistricting. Dutton, along with co-plaintiff Shannon Perez, a Bexar County resident, alleges that in drawing new political boundaries, the state is treating inmates as though they are residents of the county in which they are incarcerated. Since most of the state's inmate population comes from cities, that means urban areas are shortchanged in favor of the rural areas where prisons are located.

That's not legal, the suit says. According to Texas Election Code Section 1.015, "A person who is an inmate in a penal institution or who is an involuntary inmate in a hospital or eleemosynary institution does not, while an inmate, acquire residence at the place where the institution is located." That's especially important to Houston this redistricting cycle. Harris County currently has 25 seats in the Texas House, but the map passed on April 28 reduces that to 24 because other parts of the state supposedly grew faster than Harris. "Despite this clear command of settled Texas law, redistricting is proceeding on the assumption that the prison population is properly included as residents of the county of their incarceration," the suit reads. "One result ... is to drastically overstate the population of some Texas counties and to understate the population of urban counties."

Another Houston Democrat, Rep. Garnet Cole­man, sent a letter last month to the U.S. Department of Justice alleging numerous violations of the Voting Rights Act.

In other redistricting news, Sen. Jeff Wentworth's Senate Bill 196, which would create a bipartisan committee to redraw congres­sion­al boundaries, was voted out of committee May 5 and placed on the Senate's intent calendar. The San Antonio Republican, who also represents parts of South Austin, has been pushing the concept for nearly two decades, to little avail. Another major redistricting reform bill, Senate Joint Reso­lu­tion 43, which would establish a set of guidelines for a fair redistricting process, was left pending in committee.

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