- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Minority rights groups on Thursday told federal judges that Texas needs new election maps for 2018, which would likely boost Democratic candidates, following three recent court findings that Republicans intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and black voters.

Redrawn districts in Texas could bolster Democratic efforts to reclaim Congress in the first midterm election under President Donald Trump. It could also swing seats in the Texas Legislature, where Republicans showed their dominance overnight Thursday, passing a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities” that empowers local police to enforce federal immigration law against anyone detained.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio did not immediately decide a next step. Since March, the same court has found intentional discrimination in both congressional and statehouse maps originally drawn by Republicans in 2011, a year after U.S. Census Bureau figures showed that minorities were driving Texas’ explosive growth.

The strict Texas voter ID law was found to be intentionally discriminatory earlier this month for a second time by a separate federal court in Corpus Christi.

“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure voters in Texas get a remedy for the 2018 election,” said Jose Garza, an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is among a coalition of minority groups challenging Texas’ voting laws.

Garza believes that, at a minimum, two or three congressional districts and between two and five statehouse districts in Texas could be redrawn before 2018 to better favor minority voters. While judges said they expected to issue rulings on some issues Monday, Garza believes they are headed to a likely summer trial.

But any timeline to redraw voting districts in Texas would be tight. Candidate filing for the 2018 primaries begins in November. And while the court could postpone key dates, doing so five years ago caused upheaval in Texas’ election. Garza reminded the judges Thursday that were it not for the court pushing back Texas’ primaries in 2012 while waiting on redrawn maps, a tea party upstart named Ted Cruz may not have rallied to win the U.S. Senate nomination.



The Texas House approved a strict ban on “sanctuary cities” Thursday, empowering local police to enforce federal immigration law against anyone they detain and threatening police chiefs and sheriffs who refuse to do so with jail.

A late tweak backed by some of the chamber’s most conservative voices could ensure that law enforcement across the country’s second-largest state can inquire if people are in the country illegally during traffic stops and other fairly common interactions - which opponents say will spark the kind of immigration crackdown that the Trump administration has so far been unsuccessful implementing nationally.

The key 93-54 vote advancing the bill came just before 3 a.m. and followed 15-plus hours of heated, sometimes tearful debate, much of it from outnumbered Democrats unable to stop the bill. Final approval that again broke along party lines helped the proposal clear the House in the late afternoon.

It would allow Texas to withhold funding from county and local governments for acting as sanctuary cities. Other Republican-led states have pushed for similar policies, but Texas would be the first in which police chiefs and other officials could face a misdemeanor criminal charge of official misconduct and be removed from office for not helping enforce immigration law.

An entity failing to follow the law could be subjected to a civil penalty of $1,500 for a first offense and $25,500 for any subsequent violation.

“Sanctuary cities” has no legal definition, but the bill is needed to “keep the public safe and remove bad people from the street,” its House sponsor, Rep. Charlie Geren, said.

The Texas House proposal originally allowed local law enforcement officers to inquire about federal immigration status only if someone is arrested. A version passed in March by the state Senate went further, permitting immigration questions for anyone detained. But a floor amendment backed by tea party lawmakers extended the House version to apply to those detained as well as those arrested and passed 81-64 - bringing the full bill closer to what the Senate previously approved.

Democrats, and even some veteran Republicans, unsuccessfully opposed the change. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said it would “promote racial profiling based on appearance, background and accent.”

The state Senate’s version is still different enough from the House’s that the two chambers must compromise on a finished bill. Similar efforts have collapsed in the past, meaning the issue isn’t yet fully settled.



Texas lawmakers are trying to clear the skies over sports stadiums and jails.

Flying a drone above a large sports arena or a detention center would constitute a crime under a bill approved 120-2 on Thursday by the state House. It now only needs a largely symbolic final vote to head to the Texas Senate.

Individuals could face up to six months behind bars for one violation, and one year maximum in jail for multiple violations.

The new regulation is designed to protect the public from weapons that drones could possibly transport, and to prevent drones from delivering inmates contraband or drugs.

But opponents worry that the bill could harm the fast-growing drone industry, arguing that the federal government, not the state, is charged with regulating airspace.



The Texas Senate has approved safety standards for self-driving cars, hoping to better regulate technology that’s already been tested on the streets of the state capital.

A bill by Sen. Kelly Hancock, a North Richland Hills Republican, mandates that autonomous vehicles comply with national traffic codes. It also allows the state to supersede any local regulations Texas communities have made to accommodate self-driving cars.

Hancock’s measure was approved 31-0 on Thursday, and now speeds to the state House.

Google has tested self-driving cars in Austin, where city officials embraced technology that has in the past been slowed somewhat by regulations in the company’s home state of California.

Hancock’s bill also requires self-driving cars to be equipped with data-recording systems and to stop and “notify the proper authorities” after crashes.



The state with the country’s largest incarcerated population is moving to monitor care for its pregnant inmates.

The Texas House voted unanimously Thursday to require all state-operated or contracted jails to disclose their treatment of pregnant detainees over the course of one year, beginning in September.

The bill now requires one final, largely symbolic vote to head to the state Senate.

It would mandate jails to share information on the availability of health care services, proper nutrition, and other procedures protecting pregnant inmates.

The measure would also require the lockdown facilities to document when they restrain pregnant individuals or place them in isolation, and to report the number of miscarriages that occur.

The Legislature already required county sheriffs in 2016 to provide a similar, less comprehensive report.



The House was working late again Thursday after going most of the previous night - but it doesn’t have a legislative calendar scheduled for Friday. The Senate is adjourned until Monday afternoon.



“We might be a little tired but, as the saying goes, you’ve got to keep on working away,” Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Democrat, referring to Thursday another long day in the House after going until after 3 a.m. the night before.

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