Without too much fanfare, the Republican-controlled Legislature on Friday approved new district boundaries for the State House and Senate that would maintain GOP legislative dominance for the next decade.
Without controversy, the Legislative Assembly also approved new maps for the five-member Civil Service Commission and for the eight elected seats of the Board of Primary and Secondary Education. The Republicans will maintain their numerical advantage in these two institutions.
The legislature failed to fulfill a mission by failing to approve a new map for Louisiana’s seven-member Supreme Court. The Senate agreed to new limits that would keep one black-majority seat, but the House on Wednesday killed an attempt by Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, to create a second black-majority seat. The Supreme Court operates on borders that are no longer evenly distributed by population as the lines were last drawn in 1997 from the 1990 census.
Votes for the Legislative Assembly, PSC and BESE took place on the last day of the special session to redraw political boundaries in Louisiana to account for population changes over the past 10 years. The new boundaries will come into effect for the next round of elections, this fall for the PSC and a year later for the Legislative Assembly and BESE.
Lawmakers ended the special three-week redistricting session two days early.
The next step on state legislative maps is up to Governor John Bel Edwards, who will have to decide whether to veto one or both.
If he does, Edwards will side with black Democrats, who have repeatedly said that new district lines for the 105-member House and 39-member Senate should contain more black-majority districts to match Louisiana’s 33% black population.
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU Louisiana and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund called on the governor to veto both cards, saying they violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
An Edwards veto would invite a waiver attempt that would take place during the next regular legislative session which begins on March 14.
The Republican leadership would need to hit the two-thirds threshold — 70 in the House, 26 in the Senate — to override the governor in the event of a veto.
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The Senate approved the House map on Friday in a near-partisan 25-11 vote, with only Sen. Louie Bernard, R-Natchitoches, crossing party lines to vote against it. The new limits are incorporated into House Bill 14.
In an interview, Bernard said he voted no because he wanted the town of Natchitoches to be represented by a single representative and not be split into three, as the new map calls for.
HB14’s sponsor was Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, but Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, did the heavy lifting as chairman of the House redistricting committee. Not voting on HB14 were two Democratic senators — Joe Bouie, of New Orleans, and Greg Tarver, of Shreveport — and Senator Rick Ward, R-Port Allen.
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The vote on HB14 sent the bill to the governor because the House approved those same new district lines for the House in an 82-21 vote Monday. He enjoyed greater support in the House thanks to the yes of 12 Democrats, including five black members.
The new House boundaries retain the same number of black-majority districts, 29, that lawmakers mapped out 10 years ago. It should also allow the Republicans to maintain their overwhelming advantage. The current House has 68 Republicans, 34 Democrats and three non-party members.
HB14 moves the district currently represented by Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, from northwest Louisiana to the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. The move takes population changes into account.
Right after the Senate voted on the new map of the House, the House approved the new Senate boundaries, which are incorporated into Senate Bill 1. The vote was 65 to 31 with eight absences, also on a quasi-partisan vote.
That vote sent SB1 to the governor because the Senate had already approved it 27-12 in a vote close to the party line on Monday.
The new Senate map moves the district currently represented by Senator Barrow Peacock, R-Shreveport, to an area north of Lake Pontchartrain. It also establishes the same number of majority black districts, 11, as approved a decade ago.
Three Democrats voted for SB1 – Francis Thompson, of Delhi; Robby Carter, of Greenburg; and Jeremy LaCombe of New Roads; and the three non-party members: Malinda White, from Bogalusa; Joe Marino, of Gretna; and Roy Daryl Adams of Jackson.
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Among the spoiled votes on new Senate districts were five Republicans: Mike Johnson, of Pineville; Blake Miguez, of Erath; Beau Beaullieu, of New Iberia; Thomas Pressley, of Shreveport; and Ray Garofalo of Chalmette.
Negative votes would be significant if Edwards vetoes the Senate map.
In an interview, Johnson said he objected to Rapides Parish being divided among so many senators, six. Pressley voted no because SB1 is moving to the Senate district where he lives. Garofalo objected because he is dividing St. Bernard Parish between two senators instead of having just one.
Miguez and Beaullieu said they voted no because the Senate map moves a constituency of about 1,800 voters to the town of Loreauville in Iberia Parish in Senate District 22, which Fred Mills, of Park, currently represents, in Senate District 21, which Bret Allain, R-Franklin, currently represents. Mills and Allain have a limited duration.
In an interview, Allain said the Loreauville neighborhood had to move to Senate District 21 because the alternatives would have moved neighborhoods with Port of Iberia, New Iberia High School, or Iberia Medical Center out of District 22. was not acceptable because District 22 is concentrated in the parishes of Iberia and St. Martin.
Miguez gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the House against SB1 because Loreauville, where he grew up, will not be in Senate District 22. He plans to run for that seat next year.
In decrying the move, Miguez, who is of Spanish and Cajun French descent, mentioned Carnival, his grandfather, a possible flooding of Bayou Teche, the recent death of the Loreauville mayor’s father and the sugar cane fields.
“In Baton Rouge, it’s just district lines on paper,” Miguez told colleagues. “But you should never forget that at home, there are real people behind the lines.”