The Louisiana Legislature is set to give final approval to a plan that would keep the boundaries of Louisiana’s top school board mostly intact, and without the additional majority-minority district sought by black lawmakers.
A House-passed bill that would largely maintain the status quo — House Bill 3 — passed a Senate committee on Tuesday 6-2 and is heading to the full Senate.
Minutes later, a bill passed by the Senate that does much the same thing – Senate Bill 14 – was approved by an 8-4 House committee and is now before the whole from the room.
Sen. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, one of the Senate bill’s sponsors along with Senate Speaker Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said the issue is heading to a joint House-Senate negotiating committee to iron out minor differences before final approval by deferment by Sunday.
Representation of BESE around the Northshore is one of the remaining issues.
At issue are the boundaries of the eight elected districts of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, with adjustments based on demographic changes over the past 10 years.
Three other members of the BESE are appointed by the governor.
Foil told the House & Governmental Affairs Committee that his map mirrored one approved by the US Department of Justice in 2010, including two majority-minority districts.
A majority minority neighborhood is a neighborhood where black residents, who are a minority of Louisiana’s population, make up the majority of the neighborhood.
“I believe the plan meets the requirements of the Voting Rights Act,” he said, a reference to federal law aimed at ensuring fair representation of minorities in BESE, the Legislative Assembly and in the state congressional delegation.
The committee voted 6-7 against another map that supporters say would pave the way for a majority-minority third district in northwest Louisiana.
Rep. Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer, sponsor of that effort, said the growth of the state’s black population over the past decade and other factors have argued for change.
Jefferson acknowledged that his bill was a “Hail Mary” because it had only a slim chance of gaining political traction.
“You will be able to say ‘I did what was right, I did what was fair,'” he told committee members.
Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, chairman of the committee and leader of the House redistricting effort, said Jefferson’s BESE map would be oddly shaped.
Stefanski and others also questioned whether a redesigned District 4 would constitute a majority-minority district since black voters would make up less than 50% of the voting-age population in what is now a district dominated by white voters.
“It’s an opportunity,” Jefferson replied.
Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said Jefferson’s proposal makes it clear lawmakers could draw a new BESE map with three majority-minority districts.
“If Louisiana wants to do that,” Jenkins added.
The long-running push for a such third district was nearly torpedoed on Monday when Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters he wouldn’t lose sleep if the BESE bill didn’t include a new majority district- minority.
Asked about Edwards’ comments, Jefferson said, “We may be bloody, but we’re still rebellious.”
Check back with The Advocate for more details.