State Senate Democrats in Texas to leave exile in New Mexico return home

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Ten Texas Democrats who have been boycotting a vote on a GOP congressional redistricting plan are leaving their self-imposed exile in New Mexico and returning home for a court hearing and another special legislative session. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini said Tuesday that the Democrats agreed Monday night to attend the court hearing in Laredo. After that, “the plan is we would return to our home districts,” to wait until Gov. Rick Perry calls another special session, Zaffirini said. Their decision was made after one of their Democratic colleagues, Sen. John Whitmire, abandoned the boycott last week and said he would attend a third special session if Perry calls one. Whitmire’s presence would give the Senate the quorum it needs to conduct business. “If (Whitmire) makes a quorum, then we need to be on the Senate floor,” Zaffirini said. Eleven Senate Democrats fled to Albuquerque, N.M., on July 28 to block a special session vote on a plan that would increase the GOP’s share of the Texas congressional delegation. The court hearing Thursday in Laredo is on the Democrats’ lawsuit alleging that procedural changes instituted for that special session violated minority rights. Whitmire said remaining in New Mexico was counterproductive because there were other issues that deserved legislative attention. On Monday, the governor met with Republican legislative leaders to plan another special session on redistricting. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the governor could call a third special session as early as this week, depending on Republicans settling a deadlock of their own over new congressional boundaries. Democrats have a 17-15 majority in the present Texas congressional delegation. Lawmakers failed to draw the lines themselves during the 2001 legislative session, so the current map was drawn by federal judges. Republicans maintain that recent voting trends show Texas should have more Republicans in Washington. Efforts to address redistricting have failed three times this year. During the regular session, the bill failed when more than 50 Democratic House members blocked a quorum by fleeing to Oklahoma. Democrats and one Republican thwarted the plan in the first special session. Dewhurst tried to push it through in the second session by dropping a rule that requires two-thirds of senators to agree to consider a bill, but the Senate Democrats went to New Mexico and filed their suit complaining that the rule change reduced minority bargaining power.

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