AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas House voted Tuesday to round up absent Democrats “by warrant of arrest, if necessary” after they fled Texas to block a GOP-backed elections bill.
It comes as the state Senate starts debating the legislation that Republicans say protects election integrity, but Democrats decry as voter suppression.
On Monday, at least 50 House Democrats traveled to Washington, D.C., effectively halting work in the Republican-led chamber and killing the elections legislation — for now. Several Senate Democrats went too, though not enough to stop a vote in the 31-member chamber.
Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, who left Texas on Monday, said it wasn’t an easy decision.
“I already spent the entire legislative session arguing on the Senate floor against these bills and — because the House broke quorum — nothing the Senate passes this week will become law this special session,” he said in a statement. “I had to consider what I thought I could get done in Austin versus what I thought I could achieve out of Austin. I chose the latter.”
House Democrats pledged to stay away from Texas until the end of the 30-day special session in early August. Any member who returns now risks being arrested and brought to the Capitol.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday reiterated plans to call as many special sessions as needed to pass his 11-item agenda, even if it means legislating until the 2022 election. The Republican also suggested that any absent Democrat who holds a House leadership post should lose it, though House Speaker Dade Phelan said Tuesday chamber rules won’t allow it.
“They were not elected to run and hide,” Abbott said on the Chad Hasty show on KYFO radio in Lubbock. “They were elected to make arguments that are best for their constituents and then cast votes.”
It’s the second time Democrats have taken dramatic action to sink the GOP priority bill. In late May, House Democrats staged a walkout that upended the elections legislation and prompted Abbott to call the special session. Since it began last Thursday, Republicans fast-tracked the election bills with marathon public hearings that lasted through the night last weekend and drew hundreds of opponents.
Republicans say the bills are simply designed to prevent voter fraud. Democrats, however, contend the legislation is really a response to former President Donald Trump’s false assertions of widespread fraud and will simply make it harder to vote.
The legislation would ban 24-hour and drive-through voting, extend protections for partisan poll watchers and add restrictions to mail-in balloting.
Even if the Senate passes the bill Tuesday, as is expected, it will eventually die if the House does not take it up. So will the rest of Abbott’s special session agenda, that includes overhauling the bail system, restricting medication abortion and giving retired teachers a bonus pension check.
With a majority of the 67 Democrats gone, the House does not have enough members to meet or pass bills. The state Constitution requires two-thirds of the 150 members — or a quorum — to be present to conduct business.
Four Democratic Senators were present on the floor Tuesday: Chuy Hinojosa of McAllen; Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville; John Whitmire of Houston and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo.