AUSTIN — The House Redistricting Committee is planning hearings in the state’s three biggest population centers to solicit public testimony on interim congressional and legislative districts drawn by a three-judge panel in San Antonio, the committee chairman said Monday.Gov. Rick Perry has called lawmakers into special session to ratify the interim maps and strengthen Attorney General Greg Abbott’s legal position in a protracted court dispute over redistricting. The interim boundaries were used for the 2012 elections.But Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who chair the redistricting committees in the House and Senate, have both said they would consider amendments that could change district boundaries found to violate voter rights.The House committee plans hearings in Dallas on Thursday, in San Antonio on Monday and in Houston on June 12. Seliger’s Senate Select Committee on Redistricting has also announced field hearings in Corpus Christi on Friday and in Houston on Saturday. The Senate committee will also meet in Austin on Thursday.Darby announced the plans during a brief session of the House, which then recessed for two weeks until June 17 while the committee conducts its field hearings on redistricting. The hearing schedule for both committees further undercut early hopes of a quick finish for the session, which could last as long as 30 days.Darby said the committee will look into assertions by Democrats and minority groups that some of the districts do not adequately reflect minority voting strength and fail to take into account population growth among Hispanics and African-Americans during the past decade.“What we’re trying to hear is specifics about how current districts do not pass constitutional muster,” Darby said. “We're going to evaluate all those suggestions.”Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the No. 2 member of the Democratic leadership team in the House, said he expects witnesses from Tarrant County to testify at the Dallas hearing.“I would hope we'll have a number of Tarrant County citizens attend the hearing,” he said, asserting that legislative maps in Tarrant County should be “better drawn to reflect” minority voting strength.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin bureau chief, 512-739-4471 Twitter: @daveymontgomery