AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Legislature on Saturday passed new voting maps for the state House and Senate that critics complain violate minority voting rights and will most certainly face court challenges.
Lawmakers are required to redraw districts for the 150-member House and 31-member Senate every 10 years after the release of census data. The procedure typically becomes a partisan fight and personal battle as lawmakers try to hold onto their districts.
Republicans hold large majorities in the House and Senate. This year's fight centered on drawing districts to account for the rapid growth of the Hispanic and black populations in Texas.
The new maps would be in effect for the 2012 elections. Republicans who wrote the House map say it would increase Latino voting strength in at least two districts and would create an extra district where blacks and Hispanics could play a dominant role in the Fort Worth area.
But Democrats argued Republicans didn't create enough minority-dominated seats, particularly in South Texas.
Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat, called the maps "illegal, immoral and wrong."
Republicans rode a conservative wave in 2010 to grab a 101-49 supermajority in the House. Some Republican lawmakers and activists wanted to make the new map an even bolder grab for conservative seats, but they could not overcome constraints of federal anti-discrimination laws and giant shifts in population away from rural areas toward the suburbs.
The result is that about a dozen incumbent Republicans statewide, including several first-term lawmakers elected with strong tea-party backing, would be pitted against each other in the same district if they choose to run again.
Like the House, the Senate map generally protects incumbents with a key exception. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said the map shifts large blocks of minorities into another district, leaving her in a district heavily influenced by conservative voters.
Davis complained that her new district violates minority-voting protections of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Davis beat incumbent Republican Kim Brimer in 2008 and was considered a likely target for Republicans in redistricting. Republicans hold a 19-12 majority in the Senate, two votes short of what they need to bypass Democrats under Senate voting rules.
The Senate map also would carve up the Democratic stronghold of Austin, splitting the capital city into four districts.
Saturday marked the first time since 1991 that the chambers passed each other's map. In 2001, lawmakers could not agree on new maps, sending it to a special board to draw new districts.
In 1991, the chambers opened their doors so they could symbolically — or cynically — watch each other pass the maps at the same time.
They considered doing that again on Saturday, but a protest by public school workers outside the House chamber left Senate members watching the House vote on their desk computers instead.