Texas Lawmakers Meet on Redistricting Battle

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Texas lawmakers returned to the Capitol Monday for a special session on congressional redistricting, the bitterly partisan issue that prompted a Democratic walkout in the House in May.

Both chambers met briefly, discussing procedural matters before adjourning for the day.

Before the House session began, more than two dozen Democrats gathered to again denounce the Republican effort, calling it a "power grab" by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search).

"This week is independence week, and we're going to find out this week whether the Texas Legislature is still independent from the partisans in Washington, D.C.," said Rep. Jim Dunnam, House Democratic Caucus leader.

Meanwhile, a grand jury found no evidence of wrongdoing in its probe of destruction of records by the state Department of Public Safety (search) during the search for the Democrats who had left the state, Travis County District Attorney Ronald Earle said Monday.

The issue arose from an e-mail in which a police official ordered documents destroyed from the department's search.

DPS officials said the department was required to destroy the records under a federal rule prohibiting police from retaining intelligence gathered on individuals who are not suspected of a crime.

Earlier this month, GOP Gov. Rick Perry (search) called lawmakers back for another 30 days, to handle the redrawing of congressional districts, a topic that remained unresolved when lawmakers adjourned June 2.

Dunnam said earlier that he expected that enough Democratic state senators would oppose a redistricting bill to block it from debate.

Republicans rule the state Senate 19-12 but under the chamber's rules, two-thirds of the chamber's 31 members must agree to bring an issue to the floor for debate. That means the bill could be killed with 11 votes.

Normally, redistricting is done by the Legislature every 10 years based on population changes found in the census. In the 2001 legislative session, lawmakers could not agree on how to draw the districts so a map was drawn by federal judges.

While Democrats now have a 17-15 majority of Texas congressional seats, Republicans say that map doesn't reflect state voting trends and want to redo it. A map backed by DeLay that was considered during the regular legislative session would have likely given Republicans as many as 20 seats in the U.S. House, which would shift the balance of power in the Texas delegation to the GOP.

Democrats objected to the map and more than 50 of them, dubbed the "Killer D's", fled to Oklahoma to break a quorum and kill the bill in May.

This time around, Republicans are hopeful for a better outcome.

"I would expect an awful lot of acrimony but I do expect the Legislature to pass a new plan," said Republican Rep. Mike Krusee.

During the walkout, an agency of the federal Department of Homeland Security helped Texas police track down the private plane of a state lawmaker who departed with the other Democrats to Oklahoma. The department's inspector general's office later said they found no wrongdoing by the department.

The Department of Justice said last week that it is investigating the role of the FBI, U.S. Marshals and federal prosecutors in the search for the Democrats.

The special session will be the first in the state since Democratic Gov. Ann Richards called one on public education in late 1992.