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Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, presented the bill, which keeps Louisiana with only one majority-Black congressional district.?

The Louisiana House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill?that keeps the state with a sole majority-Black congressional district out of six, despite Black people making up a third of the state and strong opposition from Black lawmakers and civil rights groups. The house voted?70-33 to pass the bill.

Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee, a white Houma Republican who presented the bill on Thursday, said accounting for the increase in the state’s Black population was not the “primary driver” of the district boundaries in the plan.

“That is not something that I think is the primary driver,” Magee said. “It’s an important driver, but this map was based off of maintaining traditional maps that we've always had in the state of Louisiana.”

The vote comes despite the fact that attorneys for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund have repeatedly said that not creating two majority-Black congressional districts would violate the Voting Rights Act given Louisiana’s current population — and that the group would sue accordingly.

“This bill is totally illegal, so when you say it’s legal, I don’t know how you can say that,” Rep. Wilford Carter, a Black Lake Charles Democrat, said to Magee.

Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Black Baton Rouge Democrat, tried to amend the bill on the House floor in yet another attempt to create a second majority-Black district, but her amendment failed 30-71.

The bill now must pass the Senate and get the governor's signature. Gov. John Bel Edwards has also said he supports two majority-Black congressional districts but has not said if he plans to veto maps that don’t meet that threshold.

Earlier in the day, the Governmental and House Affairs committee shot down four plans in a row by Black Democrats that would have created an additional majority-Black congressional district in what began to feel like a time loop.

The votes fell mostly along party lines with Rep. Melinda White, a white Bogalusa Independent, joining Democrats in voting for the plans. However, Rep. Barry Ivey, a white Central Republican, crossed party lines to vote for a plan by Rep. Barbara Carpenter, a Black Baton Rouge Democrat, to create a second majority-Black district. Chairman John Stefanski, a white Crowley Republican, killed the bill, though, with a tiebreaker vote.

Marcelle brought forth one of the plans with two Black-majority districts, telling the committee, “We could just skip the census if we’re just going to go with the status quo.”

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Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, tried to amend the bill on the House floor to create a second majority-Black district.

The committee also refused to even vote Thursday on an alternative state House district plan by Rep. Sam Jenkins, a Black Shreveport Democrat. The plan originally contained 29 Black-majority districts — the same number as the plan led by Stefanski the committee passed and the number the state has currently — but as amended, it would have upped that number to 30.

Jenkins’ plan had many district lines similar to Stefanski’s, but it also left House District 23 in Natchitoches as a majority-Black district. Stefanski’s plan would move that district to the New Orleans area and split its current population in North Louisiana among neighboring Republican districts. The seat currently held by Rep. Kenny Cox, a Black Democrat, was the subject of much debate.

“To me I look at these and go, ‘Wow, he’s just doing everything I did,’” Stefanski said to Jenkins, before voting against giving the committee a chance to vote on Jenkins’ plan.

Before the committee killed her congressional district plan, Carpenter talked about how her late husband had to take a poll test to vote in Natchitoches under racist laws designed to keep Black people from voting.

“The struggles still continue,” Carpenter said, “and you wonder when is it ever going to end.”


Email Kaylee Poche at kpoche@gambitweekly.com