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Democrats divided over members returning for Texas House as 34 members say they feel 'betrayed and heartbroken'

The return of three Democrats on Thursday allowed the House to reach a quorum, meaning enough members were present so lawmakers could work for the first time in near

AUSTIN, Texas — (Texas Tribune) House Democrats, who were united for weeks in their efforts to stay out of the state Capitol to block a GOP voting bill, are fracturing over the recent decision of some members to rejoin the legislative session.

More than 34 Democrats signed on to a statement Friday condemning their colleagues for joining with Republicans on the House floor. Their return allowed the House to reach a quorum, meaning enough members were present so lawmakers could work for the first time in nearly six weeks.

"We are disappointed that a few Democrats chose to return to the floor. We feel betrayed and heartbroken but our resolve is strong and this fight is not over," they wrote in the statement. "With their questionable quorum, Republicans are now fully enabled and empowered to enact virtually all of [Gov. Greg] Abbott’s directives, including many dangerous pieces of legislation that will fundamentally hurt the lives of Texans."

The House reached a quorum Thursday with the help of three Democrats who broke ranks with their colleagues — Houston Democrats Garnet Coleman, Armando Walle and Ana Hernandez. The three members arrived together, with Walle pushing a wheelchair for Coleman, who recently underwent surgery on his leg.

The lawmakers said in a joint statement that it was "time to move past these partisan legislative calls" and address issues like COVID-19 and protecting students and school staff from the virus. They said they were proud of the "heroic work" by the Democratic caucus to stop the GOP elections bill but would now continue their fight on the House floor.

Those three Democrats joined a smattering of other Democrats who had already trickled back to the chamber after initially participating in the quorum bust — like Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock; Joe Moody, Art Fierro and Mary Gonzáles of El Paso; and Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville.

The returning Democrats have been met with condemnation by some of their Democratic colleagues, who say their return has thrown the lawmakers who broke quorum "under the bus." Tensions ran especially high Thursday night after Coleman, Walle and Hernandez returned to the chamber and helped Republicans reach the quorum requirement.

"Some people have to make certain decisions and I think we could have been strategic about it had we worked as a team," said Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, "Unfortunately, these individuals chose to make decisions for themselves and not for the team."

"If you're going to be there ... for the most part, you’re only advancing them ramming that legislation through," she added.

The GOP elections bill would, among other things, outlaw local voting options intended to expand voting access and bolster access for partisan poll watchers. Democrats and voting rights advocates say it restricts voting rights in the state. Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature, say the proposal is intended to secure “election integrity.”

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