Texas Democrats Block Passage of Voting Bill | New
The radical overhaul of the Texas election and voter access was on the verge of enactment early in the session. He had the support of Republican leaders in both houses of the Legislative Assembly. He had the backing of the governor.
Democrats who opposed the bill, berating it as an outright attempt to suppress voters, were simply outnumbered.
But on Sunday night, with only an hour left in the legislature to give final approval to the bill, Democrats staged a walkout, preventing a vote on the bill before a fatal deadline.
“Leave the room discreetly. Do not go to the gallery. Get out of the building, ”said Grand Prairie State Representative Chris Turner, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, in a text message to other Democrats obtained by the Texas Tribune.
Senate Bill 7, a Republican priority bill, is a sweeping bill that would alter almost the entire voting process. This would create new limits on early voting times, increase mail-voting restrictions, and limit local voting options like drive-thru voting.
Democrats had argued that the bill would make it more difficult for people of color to vote in Texas. Republicans have called the bill a “electoral integrity” measure – necessary to protect the Texas election from fraudulent votes, even though there is virtually no evidence of widespread fraud.
Debate on Senate Bill 7 had dragged on for several hours on Sunday as Texas House approached midnight to give its final approval to the legislation before it could make it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office to be promulgated.
Between their speeches opposing the bill, Democrats appeared to be dripping off the ground throughout the night, with a number of their offices appearing empty. In a previous vote to pass a resolution allowing last-minute additions to the bill, only 35 of 67 Democrats appeared to vote. At around 10:30 p.m., the remaining Democrats were seen walking out of the room.
Their absence left the House without a quorum – requiring the presence of two-thirds of the House’s 150 members – necessary to proceed to a vote.
At 11:15 p.m., about 30 Democrats could be seen arriving at a Baptist church about two miles from the Capitol in East Austin.
The Democrats’ meeting location appeared to be a nod to a last-minute addition to the expansive bill that set a new restriction on early voting hours on Sundays, limiting voting from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Over the past two days, Democrats had derided the addition – which came during closed-door negotiations – raising concerns that the change would hamper “souls at the polls” efforts to get voters out, especially voters. black voters after church services.
Standing outside the church, Democrats said the walkout only came after it emerged that the Democrats’ plan to exceed House time with speeches was not going to work because Republicans had the votes to use a procedural move to shut down debate and force a final vote on the legislation.
“We saw it coming,” said State Representative Nicole Collier, Democrat of Fort Worth and chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. “We have used all the tools in our toolkit to fight this bill. And tonight, we released the latter.
With about an hour to go until the midnight deadline, House Speaker Dade Phelan acknowledged the lost quorum and adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday morning. Midnight was the deadline for the House and Senate to approve final drafts of bills that were negotiated in conference committees.
After the adjournment, Phelan took aim at Democrats and noted that their actions killed other laws.
“Today, the penultimate day of session, a number of members have chosen to disrupt the legislative process by abandoning the legislative chamber before our work is completed,” Phelan said in a statement. number of strong and substantial bills enjoying broad bipartisan support. “
State Representative Eddie Morales, of Eagle Pass, was one of a handful of Democrats who appeared to be staying in the chamber. Morales said earlier today that House Democratic leaders asked him to come up with a list of questions to ask during the chamber debate on SB 7. He has stayed behind, he said, because he adhered to the original plan.
“I had this set of questions so I wanted to stay back and fight,” Morales said. “I was going to vote against and I was going to be there to attack the bill.”
SB 7 was one step away from the governor’s office. It was negotiated behind closed doors over the past week after the House and Senate passed significantly different versions of the bill and removed each chamber’s version of the bill. The bill also returned with a series of additional changes to the voting rules that were not part of previous debates on the bill, including new identity requirements for mail voting, restrictions on early voting hours on Sundays and a higher threshold for who can qualify. vote by post based on a disability.
But while Democrats were able to defeat the legislation on Sunday, Abbott was quick to make it known he expected lawmakers to finish the job in a special session.
“Electoral integrity and bail reform were urgent items for this legislative session. They must ALWAYS pass. They will be added to the special session agenda,” he said in a message on Twitter. “Lawmakers are expected to have finalized the details when they arrive on Capitol Hill for the special session.”
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who chairs the Senate, echoed the call for a special session to pass SB 7 and other Republican priorities that have died in the House.
“The Texas Senate passed all of these priority bills months ago and we will do it again. The TxHouse let the people of Texas down tonight. No apologies,” Patrick tweeted.
In recent months, SB 7 has been at the forefront of broader Republicans’ efforts to further restrict voting after the state saw the highest turnout for decades in 2020 in the office of the governor were still high.
Still, the legislation has sparked heated debate between Republicans and Democrats – the latter in the House and Senate focusing particularly on last-minute additions to the bill. The final version of the bill goes way beyond what the House and Senate initially passed in a 67-page bill with many additions that were only revealed to the Plenary House and Senate on Saturday. .
Parts of the bill were specifically drafted to target voting initiatives used by Harris County in the last election – such as a 24-hour advance polling day, drive-thru voting and an effort to proactively distribute mail voting requests – which have been used extensively. by voters of color. But under SB 7, these options will be banned statewide.
This would create a new window for early voting from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and make it a state prison crime for local officials to send postal ballot requests to voters who have not requested them. It would also be a crime to provide these apps to third party groups, like the League of Women Voters, who get the vote. It also broadens the freedoms of election observers, granting them “free movement” in a polling station, except when a voter fills out a ballot.
It was not immediately clear when Abbott will call on lawmakers to return for a special session, although lawmakers are expected to return in the fall to redraw the state’s political maps. Patrick previously called for an additional extraordinary session in June.
Reese Oxner and Patrick Svitek reported on this report.