Louisiana Legislature sends new redistricting maps to Edwards

Louisiana Legislature sends new redistricting maps to Edwards

February 22, 2022 0 By Victor Skinner

The Louisiana Legislature gave final approval Friday to House, Senate and congressional redistricting maps, maintaining the current number of minority districts in all three despite an increase in the state’s Black population.

Lawmakers in the House approved Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, without changes to create new state Senate districts for the next decade. The lower chamber also approved Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, drawing new congressional districts with some amendments. Both bills passed on a 65-31 vote.

Legislators in the Senate passed House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, to create new congressional districts with some amendments, as well as House Bill 14, also sponsored by Schexnayder, to create new state House districts. HB 1 passed 27-10, and HB 14 passed 25-11.

The approved maps maintain one of six minority majority districts for Congress, 11 minority districts out of 39 state Senate seats, and 29 minority districts out of 105 in the state House.

Both chambers amended the opposing chamber’s congressional district maps to create two identical maps in both bills by melding the bottom half of the House map with the top half of the Senate map.

“Largely south of Alexandria it keeps the speaker’s plan intact, north of Alexandria it keeps chairwoman Hewitt’s plan intact,” Rep. John Stefanski said on the House floor.

Rep. Michael Firment, R-Pollock, objected to the compromise bill’s split in Grant Parish. Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, was against a split to St. Mary Parish, and Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, raised issues with splits in St. Martin and St. Mary parishes.

“I just felt like this was done in the dark of night,” Firment said. “It stinks to high heaven if you ask me.”

Reps. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport; Wilford Carter, D-Lake Charles; and Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, all questioned Stefanski over whether lawmakers truly attempted to draw an additional minority-majority district, the central issue for all maps during the redistricting session. Democrats filed numerous bills to add minority representation in all maps, but none made it out of committee.

Stefanski, who presented Hewitt’s bill in the House, maintained that efforts and considerations were made to add an additional minority district, but leaders ultimately decided against it after weighing all factors required by law, such as compactness, continuity of representation, consideration for communities of interest and equal populations.

Republicans, including Hewitt, previously argued that increasing minority districts could dilute Black voters to the point they wouldn’t have a true opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice in either district. The same argument was made in regards to House and Senate districts. Democratic lawmakers, voting rights activists and others have pointed to the state’s 33% Black population, which is growing as the white population is shrinking, to demand increased representation at all levels of government.

Debate in the Senate centered on the same issue, though Republicans in the upper chamber also questioned splits in the congressional map.

“If we vote for this instrument today, it is in direct ignorance and negligence to address the increasing population in the state of Louisiana,” Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, told her colleagues on the Senate floor.

Peterson alleged decisions in the redistricting process were driven by race.

“For too long, Black people have been ignored, particularly in this state, for what’s right and just,” she said. “You really know in your heart this isn’t right. … It’s about people’s fundamental rights.”

The bills are headed to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who repeatedly has stated his support for increasing minority representation. He has not revealed whether he would veto measures without it.

Several lawmakers have alluded to potential litigation.

Edwards issued a statement Friday after the conclusion of the special session.

“Throughout this Legislative Session, I have had discussions with a diverse group of legislators and leaders about different map proposals, and I will closely review the new district maps Louisiana’s Legislature has passed before making a decision on how to proceed,” he said. “I remain adamant that the maps should reflect the growth of the African American population in our state over the last 10 years, allowing for minority groups to have an opportunity at electing candidates of their own choosing, and I do have concerns that several of the maps do not fulfill that moral and legal requirement.

“I thank the Legislature for the time and attention paid to these maps and for the sometimes emotional and difficult debate leading up to their passage. I pledge to the people of Louisiana to very carefully examine them in order to determine if I believe they are reasonable, fair, and in line with the Voting Rights Act.”

This article was originally posted on Louisiana Legislature sends new redistricting maps to Edwards