STATE & REGION

Paxton asks high court to approve court-drawn House maps

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AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Oct. 27 filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling that required nine of the state’s 150 House districts to be redrawn.

In September, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily stayed the federal district court’s ruling. That allowed Texas to continue to use the existing maps while the redistricting case remains pending.

Candidate filings for the 2018 elections begin next month. Early primary voting begins in February.

“We’re eager for the Supreme Court to review all the facts in this case, which are clearly on our side,” Paxton said. “The portion of the House redistricting map invalidated by the lower court is the map the same court drew and approved in 2012 before the Legislature adopted it in 2013. It’s been used in the last three election cycles in Texas, and there is no sound reason for that to change.”

In a separate ruling, the Supreme Court also temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that invalidated two of Texas’ 36 congressional seats. Paxton filed a brief on Oct. 17 asking the high court to reverse the district court’s ruling in that case.

Speaker won’t run again

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Oct. 25 announced his decision not to seek re-election in November 2018.

Straus is almost halfway through his record fifth consecutive two-year term as speaker.

The chamber will elect a new leader in the next regular legislative session, which begins in January 2019. State Reps. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and Phil King, R-Weatherford, are the first two members to declare their intentions to run for the leadership post. Zerwas is chair of the state budget-writing House Committee on Appropriations. King chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety.

Straus has been noted as a consensus builder, able to bring Democrats and Republicans together in decision-making processes. His “big tent” style has overwhelmed challenges to his leadership and to his parliamentary abilities in moving certain bills through the process while slowing others, such as the “bathroom bill,” last spring.

Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement following Straus’s announcement, saying: “Joe Straus has served with distinction for both the people in his district and for the Texas House of Representatives. I thank Speaker Straus for his service and for his commitment to the State of Texas.”

Interim charges posted

Speaker Straus on Oct. 23 released the full list of 230 House interim charges, assigning almost every committee at least one charge related to the state’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey. The charges are to be studied and discussed leading up to the next legislative session.

Committees will focus on Hurricane Harvey’s impact on public health, the juvenile justice system, agriculture and the state’s tax structure and evaluate how state agencies responded to the storm. They also will make recommendations to the full House for legislation addressing the issues.

Straus also created the Select Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse in which lawmakers will study the prevalence and impact of substance abuse and substance use disorders in the state. Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, will serve as chair of the select committee and Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, will serve as vice chair.

Update: Hurricane recovery

Since Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in late August, federal and state agencies, local governmental bodies, volunteers and private property owners have been hard at work to return to normal the many stricken areas of the Lone Star State.

As of Oct. 26, according to information posted by the state-run Commission to Rebuild Texas, $5.83 billion in federal funds had been provided directly to Texans. That amount includes FEMA grants to households, National Flood Insurance Program claims payments and SBA disaster loans.

Also, some 882,935 individual assistance applications were received. FEMA’s deadline to register for individual disaster assistance is Nov. 24 for the residents of 41 designated counties.

And, as of Oct. 27, some 51,416 individuals were taking advantage of FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance. Some 145,737 individuals were counted as having visited Disaster Recovery Centers for assistance as of Oct. 26.

Youth vote is encouraged

Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos on Oct. 25 issued a proclamation designating the first Friday of the early voting period as Student Voting Day.

“The state of Texas is committed to ensuring that civic participation remains a cherished tradition among all Texans, particularly those of the youngest generation,” Pablos said.

More than 800 Texas high schools committed to assisting their eligible students in registering to vote, an effort supported by secretary of state’s 2017 High School Voter Registration Initiative.

Early voting ends Nov. 3 for the Nov. 7 Uniform Election. More information can be found at www.votetexas.gov/

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