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Debate on redistricting bills begins Tuesday

: The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Sen. Sharon Hewitt (center), voted Friday to approve Republican-sponsored redistricting bills. (Photo by Alex Tirado / LSU Manship School News Service)

BATON ROUGE — Republicans on Senate and House committees voted along party lines Friday to maintain a single minority-majority congressional district in Louisiana, turning back efforts to make it easier for minority residents to elect a second black member of Congress.

The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee also voted along party lines to redraw state Senate districts keeping 11 minority-majority districts rather than increasing the number to 13 supported by the Black Caucus and other organizations.

The Republican bills will move to the Senate and House floors for further debate.

Civil rights groups have threatened to sue if blacks do not gain further representation in the process. They also could appeal to Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, to veto any final bills they consider unfair, and legislators would have to mount two-thirds votes to override any veto.

The 2020 Census showed that Louisiana’s minority population had increased over the previous decade while the white population declined slightly. Black residents make up about a third of the state’s population.

The six Republicans on the Senate committee voted to approve a bill by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, the panel’s chairwoman, that would not add a second minority-majority district.

The three Democrats on the committee opposed the bill.

The committee also voted 6-3 as it deferred each of five Democratic bills that would have redrawn the maps that might make it easier to elect a second black Congress member. Those bills cannot be considered again this session.

The House and Government Affairs Committee also voted along party lines, 13-5, in favor of a map that also included one majority-minority district. That bill was sponsored by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, who repeatedly responded, “This is just one attempt,” to committee members who raised questions about his proposal.

Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans and the vice chairman of the committee, voiced concerns about honoring the Voting Rights Act and federal law.

“Twenty-seven percent of Alabama is African-American, and the federal courts said their map needs two minority districts,” Duplessis said. “We have 33 percent African-Americans in this state, but we only have one opportunity to vote for your candidate and one district.”

Michael Pernick, redistricting counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, contended that Schexnayder’s bill violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“We’ve done the analysis, and in five of the six districts, black voters would have no chance whatsoever to elect their preferred candidate,” Pernick said. “Every other bill is more compact, and this bill falls short on every other measure of compactness. Even on respecting parish boundaries, this is not the best bill.”

At the Senate hearing, Sen. Edward J. “Ed” Price of Gonzales, one of the three Democrats on that committee, voiced his disappointment, saying, “We're going to continue to work together wherever we may go with this.”

Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, wrote the bill that seems likely to expand the number of minority-majority seats in the 39-member state Senate.

Given shifts in population within the state, his bill moves Senate District 37, currently in Bossier and Caddo parishes, to Tangipahoa, Livingston and parts of St. Tammany Parish.

It also passed on a 6-3 party-line vote. Sen. Barry Milligan, R-Shreveport and the vice chair of the Senate committee, voted for the bill even though it meant that northwest Louisiana would lose a seat in the Senate.

Cortez said the full Senate would debate the Republicans’ congressional and state Senate maps on Tuesday. No maps have been released yet on how the House might redraw its 105 districts.

(Lura Stabiler contributed to this story.)


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