AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas House is headed for a stalemate after Democrats broke quorum to block the GOP-led overhaul of the state’s election laws, with Republicans left unable to take any action on their legislative agenda and calling on their colleagues to return to the chamber.
The Democrats, many of whom flew to the nation’s Capital on Monday, spent Tuesday pushing for federal voting rights legislation that would supercede the state’s proposed changes. They met with Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Democrats claim the new voting bills would disproportionately impact working voters by banning 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting, both of which were implemented and used in urban areas in Texas in the 2020 election.
“We knew if we stayed in Texas, that we would just be brought back to the House floor and be forced to vote on a bill that — to say is objectionable, is an understatement — a bill that would target and hurt our foundational right to vote,” State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, said during an interview from her D.C. hotel room.
“So we came to D.C., in part to get away from Texas, but really more importantly to urge Congress, urge the U.S. Senate to pass federal voting rights legislation that will protect Texans’ voting rights and protect the rights of all Americans,” she said.
State Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, joined her colleagues a day later, after taking extra time to secure a plan for her 8-year-old daughter.
“I’m a single mom, parent, I have an eight year old daughter,” she said. “And so I had to make childcare provisions with my family and I’m very grateful to them that they said this is worth fighting for Shawn, you know, go.”
“My constituents are so happy and proud that I’m here fighting for them,” Thierry explained. “We are doing exactly what we’re supposed to do in the United States of America, we’re going to the federal government, asking them to supercede to step in against one of the most discriminatory pieces of voter legislation that we’ve seen in decades.”
But, Republicans argue all 254 counties in the state need to have uniform voting rules, and the proposed legislation would not make it harder to vote, just harder to cheat.
“Many of the people were here spent 24 hours working on that bill over the weekend,” said State Rep. Jim Murphy, who chairs the Texas House GOP Caucus, in a Tuesday press conference, citing the marathon hearings over the weekend focused on the election legislation during which members of both parties participated. “Those bills can be amended on the House floor. It is their legislation. It’s theirs to shape, it’s theirs to work on. And we await their presence.”
House members implemented a call on the House, which compels lawmakers to return to their desks to complete the chamber’s business. Members who are absent are then subject to arrest or brought back to the chamber by any means necessary, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said.
After the House doors were locked, members of the House Sergeant at Arms’ office and Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers were dispatched to Capitol offices, and even homes and workplaces of state lawmakers, according to State Rep. Eddie Morales, D-Eagle Pass, who was one of four Democrats to stay at the Capitol. The other Democrats who stayed behind were Tracy King of Batesville, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City and John Turner of Dallas. Turner said he stayed to monitor the chamber activity and ensure protocols were followed.
The Speaker issued individual permission slips for members who were present to leave the chamber and return at a designated time.
While Republicans will check in each day, Democrats say their East Coast trip is indefinite, but they are preparing for a long haul.
“We are prepared to be gone for weeks, and we’ve prepared our families for that, and some of us have prepared our employers or employees, if we — there are members who own small businesses,” Hinojosa said.
House Republicans criticized the move, adding taxpayers will foot the bill for aspects of the Democrats’ decision, despite the House Democratic Caucus and its members paying for the trip using campaign donations.
“We are spending a lot of money to be here, and I think at some point the people of Texas are going to say, ‘what are we paying for to get nothing,'” Murphy said. “We want our colleagues, we respect their work, we respect their opinions, we want to embrace them and work with them. But we have work to do.”
According to legislative estimates, each special session costs taxpayers approximately $1 million.
Texas lawmakers get paid a $600 monthly salary in addition to a daily stipend. It’s not clear whether the members who busted quorum are receiving that per diem.
“If you want to go advocate for something that you believe in on the federal level, then go do it on your own time,” State Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, said. “When you’re getting paid a per diem to be here in Austin, Texas, at our State Capitol to do the business of your constituents, then you should be here at the State Capitol doing the business of your constituents, and that’s what the Republicans are doing. We’re here. We’re ready, willing and able to get to work.”
Meanwhile, the Texas Senate voted along party lines in an 18-4 vote to advance the upper chamber’s version of the elections bill. Nine members of that chamber joined their House colleagues in D.C., leaving four Democrats in the Senate.