Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives have fled the state in an attempt to block a bill that Republicans say will defend voter integrity. It was passed 18-4 on a party-line vote in the state Senate on Tuesday.
Democrats have said they will remain out of Texas for the length of the 30-day special session.
The Tyler Morning Telegraph reports that almost all the House Democrats left the state Monday on private jets bound for Washington, D.C. They were avoiding a “Call of the House” order from House Speaker Dade Phelan, which could have been initiated Tuesday, when the House was back in session.
Matt Rinaldi, a former legislator and the newly elected chairman of the Texas Republican Party, said there should be serious repercussions for the Democrats’ decision to flee the state.
“I have been one of many people, including Gov. Greg Abbott and many Republicans calling on House Speaker Dade Phelan to strip fleeing Democrats of their chairmanships,” Rinaldi told Dallas Express. “The Texas Constitution grants the House broad power to secure the attendance of absent members and it should use every tool at its disposal.”
According to the Austin American-Statesman, out of the 67 Democrats in the Texas House, 63 were absent and only two absences were excused. The absent lawmakers argue that the proposed law will restrict access to the polls and is another example of voter suppression aimed at Democratic voters.
Republicans disagree, and point to voting laws in other states, including New York. They say there broad-based support for some of the elements of the bill. According to a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll of 1,115 adults, 79% of respondents believe voters should be required to show government-issued photo identification whenever they vote
Empire State Today reports that Texas SB7 would offer two weeks of early voting. It also would also roll back drive-thru and 24-hour voting, mandate a state ID or Social Security number requirement for all mail-in ballots, and change the legal burden for voter fraud from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “by a preponderance of the evidence.”
The Texas House voted July 13 to compel the Democrats who left the state to return and attend the legislative session, using warrants and arrests if necessary. The House voted 76-4 to authorize officials to arrest any non-excused absent member after the absence of a quorum was established, the Austin Statesman reported.
Abbott said if Democrats don’t return by the end of this session, he will call another, and, if needed, another session.
“The Republican Party of Texas supports the governor’s stated intent to call special sessions until the Democrats return, and urges the governor to put all of the GOP’s legislative priorities on the call,” Rinaldi said. “We will continue to advocate for using any and all means at the House’s disposal to compel the attendance of absent members, including but not limited to arresting them upon their return, stripping them of leadership positions, removing their office privileges and fining them.”
Abbott recently vetoed a section of the Texas budget that granted funding to the Legislature, as well as the staffs and legislative agencies stemming from the Legislature. Abbott undertook this action after Democrats broke quorum a first time in May to prevent the passage of SB7. The Texas Legislature did not pass a new legislative budget before the House Democrats left.
The Democrats may not be at work, but they are still getting paid.
“Although House Speaker Phelan has asked Democrats to return their per diem voluntarily, there has been no vote to strip them of their per diem,” he said.
According to a poll from the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, 54% of Texans oppose legislators staging walkouts. Referring to the Democratic walkouts, TPPF spokesman Brian Phillips stated that “Most Texans see it as a childish and desperate move, and they don’t like temper tantrums.”