WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE APPROVES NEW SENATE, CONGRESSIONAL MAPS
(AUSTIN) — The Senate this week approved bills that would draw new lines for state Senate and US congressional districts following the 2020 census. The constitution requires that new district maps are drawn in the first regular session after the decennial census, but delays due to the COVID pandemic, legal challenges, and other issues pushed back the release of this critical data by months. Instead, lawmakers had to wait until August to get the necessary data. What those numbers showed was that Texas added more population than any other state, growing by 4 million residents since 2010. Texas will also be the only state to add two new seats to its congressional delegation - no other state will add more than one. Those two new districts, said Houston Senator and chair of the Special Committee on Redistricting Joan Huffman, will go to rapidly growing parts of Travis county and northwest Harris county, bringing the total number of congressional seats representing Texas in Washington, D.C. to 38. Both bills now head to the House for consideration and the Senate must still sign off on the House's plan to redraw that chamber's districts. By long-standing tradition, neither body makes changes to the other's plans for their own district boundaries.
Friday, the Senate approved spending more than $16 billion in federal COVID aid funds to make up costs to the state incurred during the ongoing pandemic and to shore up public health response as the state endures a fourth spike in COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. “"These are strategic, one-time investments that will help us move beyond the pandemic and help keep Texas strong, prosperous, and healthy," said author and Finance Committee Chair Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound.
About half of the bill's appropriations, $7.2 billion, will go to completely cover the debt in the state's unemployment insurance compensation fund. This account was depleted following the spike in layoffs caused by the COVID pandemic, and without action, Nelson warned that it could lead to a hike in unemployment taxes for business owners. "We are holding businesses harmless for the pandemic-related layoffs and avoiding what would be an unfair, crippling increase in unemployment taxes at a time when many employers are struggling," said Nelson. "Texas is a pro-business state and we are setting aside nearly half of our allotment to help our businesses get back on their feet." It also includes $200 million in grants for the state's hard-hit tourism sector.
Much of the rest of this money goes to public health spending, including $2.5 billion to pay for additional staff, treatment, and infusion centers to deal with the ongoing pandemic, and $3.5 billion to cover salaries for staff who are directly involved in the pandemic response. It also would spend $75 million for rural hospitals, about $350 million for adult and youth mental health services, and $100 million for state food banks.
With only a few exceptions, the Senate has now passed legislation relating to all items on Governor Greg Abbott's agenda for the third called session. These bills must still pass the House and the Senate must consider any changes that body makes before the measures can reach the governor's desk. The special session is scheduled to end on October 19th.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, October 12th at 2 p.m.