AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas House on Tuesday voted 76-4 to have the Sergeant at Arms send for at least 51 members who have gone to Washington, D.C., a procedural move that does not currently hold much weight as the lawmakers remain out of the jurisdiction of Texas law enforcement.
The Democrats will be ordered back to Texas unless they have an excused absence. It is worth noting that the Sergeant at Arms or another officer will only arrest the unexcused lawmakers if necessary, once they arrive back in the state. So, they can only be arrested in Texas if they don't go willingly.
Texas Democrats left the Lone Star State on Monday to deny the GOP majority a quorum to pass bills. The Democrats also left the House during the 87th Texas Legislative Session back in May. That move led to Gov. Greg Abbott calling the special session, which started on July 8.
The vote on Tuesday comes one day after Abbott declared on KVUE that the House members who fled the state would be arrested.
"Answering your second question, yes, there is something the governor can do. First of all, I'll tell you what the House of Representatives can do. What the speaker can do is issue a call to have these members arrested," Abbott said. "In addition to that, however, I can and I will continue to call a special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year. And so if these people want to be hanging out wherever they're hanging out on this taxpayer-paid junket, they're going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year. As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done. Everybody who has a job must show up to do that job, just like your viewers on watching right now. State representatives have that same responsibility."
The Democrats held a press conference Tuesday morning, where they said the decision to leave Texas was the last move in their playbook and a final effort to try and stop GOP-sponsored legislation they call "Jim Crow 2.0."
"We're fighting with everything we got," Rep. Jasmine Crockett said. "If we would have gone back tomorrow I fully anticipate they would have locked the doors and locked us in until they got these bills passed."
The group of lawmakers said Tuesday morning they plan to stay in D.C. until after Aug. 7 when the special session is set to end and plan to pressure Congress to step in.
As of late Tuesday morning, the House of Representatives was standing at ease and the lawmakers were locked inside the chamber – a procedural move to try and achieve a quorum.
Speaker of the House Dade Phelan did not ask lawmakers to register or take attendance Tuesday, due to the obvious absence of the Democrats. Several Republican lawmakers were also absent for various reasons. So, out of the 150 lawmakers who were supposed to be present, just 80 were on the floor Tuesday.
The Republicans who were present did not waste time voting for a "call of the House," meaning the chamber was locked to try to maintain the quorum. If a lawmaker wishes to leave the hall, they must obtain written permission from the speaker.
KVUE's Molly Oak spoke with Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) about the Democrats' decision to flee the state. He said they knew their risks when they made the move.
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"Even if it means getting arrested, even if it means risking our livelihoods and our careers, even if it means leaving our families for weeks and months at a time, this democracy is ours," said Rep. Talarico. "This opportunity to debate ideas freely and fairly in the public square is too important to let slip through the cracks because of someone's political agenda or because of Greg Abbott's presidential ambitions."
The House cannot take up any business unless a quorum is present. In the House and Senate, two-thirds of the elected members must be present in order to do business. There are 31 seats in the Senate, so 21 members must be present for a quorum – that's 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats.
Although Republicans hold the majority in both chambers, Democrats have the numbers to effectively bring business to a halt during this special session.
The Senate is still expected to vote on the election reform bill Tuesday. While some did travel to Washington to urge the federal government to pass legislation in regard to elections, enough Democrats did remain in Texas to maintain a quorum in the Senate.
Democrats in the Texas Senate released a joint statement Tuesday afternoon:
“Senate Democrats have told Republican leadership time and again that S.B. 1 threatens Texans’ freedom to vote. This past weekend, hundreds of passionate Texans, including representatives from the NAACP, LULAC, ACLU and disability rights groups, warned Republicans that Senate Bill 1 will impede their Constitutional rights. Instead of listening to the people of Texas, Republicans remained committed to erecting unacceptable barriers for Texas voters.
“Rather than continuing to fruitlessly debate Republicans who refuse to legislate in good faith, Texas Senate Democrats decided to take matters into their own hands in order to secure the voting rights of Texans – especially voters of color, seniors and those with disabilities – and work with our partners at the federal level to pass voting rights legislation that would rein in discriminatory voter suppression laws and unfair redistricting practices. Over the coming days, Senate Democrats will work with our colleagues in the Texas House of Representatives and in the United States Congress to fiercely advocate for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act.
"We will not stand by and witness Republicans silence the voice of hard-working Texans. Texas Senate Democrats are committed to ensuring our elections are free, fair and accessible for every Texan. While we are here, we will continue to meet with federal officials to address the very real issues facing millions of Texans such as the electric grid, health care and economic recovery."
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