25 April 2018

Committee action, Apr. 25: HB 861

HB 861 by Rep. Randal Gaines would redistrict the 32nd Judicial District into a district-based election system from an at-large system. He told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that recent court rulings have called this kind of system discriminatory. Gaines said this would be the seventh time a bill came in front of the Legislature to change it, and said the court likely would impose a remedy if it didn’t act.

Plaintiffs for the case alleged the current system was discriminatory, and said it was appropriate for a non-area legislator to file such a bill. They noted 13 other districts had subdistricts in this fashion. They said the desire of the district’s judges not to move to this system should be overridden, because it was against the people’s interests. They also said that this attitude could spread and threaten minority-majority majoritarian districts in the parish covered, Terrebone.

Chairman Mike Danahay noted a projected districting system would split a large number of districts. He said it would be difficult to administer and confuse voters.

Rep. Sam Jenkins asked whether a black judge had been elected there. Gaines admitted there was one, but called him an “anomaly” and claimed the system “discriminated” despite that. He claimed if that judge moved on, discrimination would occur. Rep. Steven Pugh asked about the status of the case. Gaines said the ruling was not final in order to give the Legislature a chance to act, so no appeal could occur.

Representatives from the Attorney General’s office who tried the case spoke. They said when the final judgment came, they would appeal, but could not elaborate because of the pending status of the case.

Jenkins said the Legislature could act regardless and was told no known settlement talks were occurring. A status conference in June could reveal much, but Jenkins said the Legislature would be out of session by then.

Rep. Jay Morris noted the presence of the elected black judge showed that people didn’t primarily vote on the basis of race, and even if he was unopposed, this showed him to be a strong candidate. Regardless, Gaines claimed a history of opposition to creating sub-districts by itself showed a discriminatory system.

Opponents, both executives with Terrebone parish government, said the ruling overreached in its conclusion of discrimination, entirely disagreeing with that stigmatic designation, and it deserved a higher court hearing. Thus, the bill was premature and should not pass

Gaines, on closing, repeated the system was discriminatory, and so the bill should move or the problem perpetuates. A motion to move favorably found objection, and it failed to pass 3-5 with all Democrats present voting for it and Republicans against.

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