New Special Session Agenda: Redistricting, Transgender Athletes And Potential Leeway For Vaccine Mandates

Gov. Greg Abbott has called lawmakers into special session for a third time this year.

By Jill Ament & Shelly BrisbinSeptember 8, 2021 11:30 am

On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for a third special legislative session to start Sept. 20. The move was expected, since lawmakers have yet to address decennial redistricting. In addition to mapping new congressional and legislative district lines, though, Abbott wants lawmakers to again take up a requirement that transgender athletes compete only under the gender they were assigned at birth. The agenda also includes an item addressing potential exemptions to the ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Juan Carlos Huerta is a political science professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He told Texas Standard that through redistricting, Republicans will work to protect existing seats in Congress and the Legislature, as they attempt to draw maps for two new congressional seats whose boundaries also favor their candidates.

“With the changes [in population and demographics] we’ve seen whether that’s going to be possible,” Huerta said.

Lawmakers are on a tight schedule when it comes to drawing those boundaries, however. Party primaries scheduled for March 2022. Huerta says that in the past, primaries have been delayed when redistricting fights went longer than usual. That happened in 2012 when the initial GOP-drawn maps were invalidated by courts. The primaries back then were delayed until May.

Abbott’s transgender athlete agenda item has already been passed by the Senate, but the governor hopes to have it voted on by the House during the new special session. Huerta says the governor wants to boost his credentials with conservative voters as he prepares to seek reelection.

“He’s got some challengers to the right of him in the primary,” Huerta said.

Also, potentially allowing local governments to grant exemptions to the executive order banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates strikes Huerta as a relief valve for school districts that have struggled with increased coronavirus cases. Many districts have established mask mandates in violation of an Abbott executive order that bans such mandates. Other districts have shut down in-person classes.

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