Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to date with Texas’ most essential news.
Democrats in the Texas House of Representativesleft the state on Monday afternoon en route toWashington, DC, in a bid to once again deny Republicans the quorum necessary to pass new voting restrictions with 26 days remaining in a special legislative session called largely for that purpose.
Raising the bar in both the legislative struggle at home and the national debate over voting rights, most House Democrats boarded two planes from Austin to the U.S. capital without return date set.At least 51 of the 67 Democratic representatives – the number needed to break the quorum – were set to depart Monday afternoon, most arriving at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Monday to board charter flights departing to 3:10 p.m.
The House is expected to meet again on Tuesday morning, but absent Democrats would mean there will not be enough members present to conduct business according to House rules.
“Today, Texas House Democrats are united in our decision to break the quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led lawmaker impose dangerous legislation that would violate Texans’ freedom to vote,” the leaders said. Democrats in a joint statement released Monday.
With the national political spotlight on Texas efforts to further restrict the vote, the Democratic Exodus offers them a platform to continue to implore Congress to act to restore federal protections for voters of color. In Texas, the decamp will mark a more aggressive stance by Democrats to block Republican legislation further tightening state voting rules as GOP opposes thinning statewide margins of victory .
Ultimately, Democrats lack the votes to stop the Republican-controlled Legislature from passing new voting restrictions, along with other Tory priorities on Governor Greg’s 11-point agenda. Abbott for the special session.
Some Democrats are hoping their absence will give them a way to force good faith negotiations with Republicans, who they say have largely excluded them from negotiations over the vote bill. Both houses pushed their legislation out of the party line vote committees after nightly hearings, distributing the bills early Sunday morning after hearing hours of testimony mostly against the proposals and just days after going public. their proposals revived. Bills were due to reach the House and Senate floors for votes this week.
The House and Senate proposals look like failed legislation known as Senate Bill 7 from the spring regular legislative session – the demise which Democrats in Texas used last month to make their plea on Capitol Hill for action on voting rights.
On Monday, Democrats said they were renewing calls for Congress to pass sweeping federal legislation that would prevail over a significant chunk of Texas bills and restore federal election oversight in states with troubling records. .
“We are now leading the fight on our nation’s Capitol,” Democrats said in their statement. “We live on borrowed time in Texas.”
Democrats gathered at a building of the local plumbers union and boarded a bus that transported them to a private airport terminal. They arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport shortly after 2:30 p.m., driving straight onto the tarmac.
Lawmakers did not speak to the media before they left. Terminal staff kept journalists away from the premises and on the street outside. At 3 p.m., several supporters of the lawmakers were gathered outside the terminal, holding up signs reading “Let my people vote” and “Thank you for fighting against voter suppression.”
Even if Democratic lawmakers remain out of state for the next few weeks, the governor could continue to call 30-day sessions or add voting restrictions to the agenda when the legislature sets out to redraw the political maps of the country. ‘State later this summer.
Monday’s massive departure follows a Democratic walkout in May that prevented Republicans from passing their bill with a priority vote at the end of the regular legislative session. For weeks, Democrats had indicated that leaving town during the special session remained an option as Republicans braced for a second attempt to tighten the state’s election laws.
House Speaker Dade Phelan R-Beaumont said in a statement Monday that the chamber “will use all available resources under the Texas Constitution and unanimously passed House rules to ensure a quorum â¦ “
Gov. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, criticized Democrats over the move, saying it “inflicts damage on the Texans who elected them to serve.”
“As they fly over the country in comfortable private planes, they leave out issues that can help their districts and our state,” Abbott said in a statement Monday afternoon. âDemocrats need to put aside partisan politics and resume the job they were elected to do. “
According to the House rules adopted at the start of the ordinary session, two-thirds of the 150 chamber members must be present to conduct business. When the House is in session, lawmakers can vote to lock room doors to prevent colleagues from leaving and can order law enforcement to locate lawmakers who have already fled.
If the quorum is not met when the House meets on Tuesday, any member of the House can propose what is known as a call for the House to “obtain and maintain a quorum” to consider a certain bill, a bill. resolution or motion, under the house rules. This motion must be seconded by 15 members and ordered by majority vote. If that happens, the missing Democrats will become legislative fugitives.
“All absentees for whom no sufficient excuse is invoked may, by order of the majority of those present, be summoned and arrested, wherever they are, by the sergeant-at-arms or an officer appointed by the sergeant of weapons. weapons for this purpose, and their presence will be ensured and preserved â, stipulate the rules of the House. âThe house will determine the conditions under which they will be released. “
It is unclear, however, what options Phelan might have to force Democrats back to the legislature if they are out of state.
The House Voting Bill, as passed by the committee over the weekend, would curb local voting initiatives like drive-thru and 24-hour voting, further tighten postal voting rules, would strengthen access for supporters of the ballot observers and would bar local election officials on applications to request postal ballots.
The Democrats’ departure also calls into question other items on Abbott’s special session agenda, including legislation to provide funding to the legislature. Last month, Abbott vetoed a section of the state budget that funds the legislature for the two-year budget cycle that begins September 1. He did so in retaliation for the Democrats’ walkout in May. If the Legislature does not pass a supplementary budget before the start of the new cycle, more than 2,100 legislative staff and people working in legislative agencies could be affected.