By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
The Louisiana Legislature officially has called a special session for February to craft new legislative districts for state and federal offices.
State Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, have signed a proclamation to convene a special session that will run from 5 p.m. Feb. 1 to 6 p.m. Feb. 20 for the state’s constitutionally mandated redistricting process.
The session gives lawmakers 20 days to redraw Louisiana’s congressional, state House and state Senate districts. Legislators also will craft districts for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Public Service Commission and Supreme Court.
States redraw state and federal legislative maps every decade using updated census data to ensure fair representation, though the process is contentious and often rife with gerrymandering aimed at giving an advantage to one political party or the other.
Tuesday’s special session proclamation came as members of the Legislature’s Joint Governmental Affairs Committee wrap up a redistricting road show to solicit input from the public, with the final meeting scheduled for Jan. 20 at the state Capitol.
The state’s congressional districts have received the most attention during nine prior meetings, which began in late October. Groups representing Democrats and Black residents have called for the creation of a second majority-black congressional district to better represent the roughly one-third of the state’s 4.6 million residents who identified as Black during the recent census.
Gov. John Bel Edwards also lent his support to the cause during a news conference in December.
“We have a minority population, an African-American population, of 32-33%,” Edwards said. “We have six congressional districts. And so fairness – if it can be done – would be to have two out of the six congressional districts be minority districts.”
Edwards acknowledged the move would require “major reworking” of the current districts, but he urged the Republican-majority Legislature to heed the request nonetheless.
“Obviously, if we want to talk about fairness and making sure the maps reflect reality of what the situation is on the ground, that should be our goal, and I’m hopeful that we’re going to be able to get there,” he said, according to Baton Rouge Public Radio.
Republicans hold a supermajority in the state Senate and a 68-34 advantage in the House, where there’s also three independents. Since securing the overwhelming advantage in 2019, Republicans have been unable to override any of Edwards’ vetoes, the news site reported.
The situation means Republicans will likely need Edwards’ signature for any maps approved by the Legislature, though the governor has not said whether he would veto a map without a second majority-Black congressional district.
Despite calls from Democrats and Edwards to make it happen, experts in Louisiana’s redistricting process remain skeptical that Republicans simply will concede to the demands.
Now retired House Clerk Alfred Speer, who participated in multiple redistricting efforts over the years, told attendees at a public redistricting meeting in December he doesn’t expect Republicans will sacrifice a safe district simply because the public demands it, The Associated Press reported.
“I’d be shocked to have anybody say that it’s going to be done in this time,” Speer said of a second majority-minority district. “It should be. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be. But there are a lot of pressures on the other side of the scale.”