Texas House begins debating elections overhaul bill, nearly 3 months after Democrats walked out

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After a historic quorum-breaking effort by Texas House Democrats led to a nearly three-month stall on legislative action, the House is poised to finally debate the elections bill that catalyzed the standoff. 

The Texas House of Representatives gaveled in at 10:45 a.m. Thursday and shortly after began debate on SB1, a bill Republicans say is needed for elections integrity and Democrats say will lead to voter suppression.

In anticipation of an impassioned debate on the controversial bill, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, reminded his members of the House decorum.

“Our rules require we conduct ourselves in a civil manner and treat our colleagues with respect,” Phelan said.

At one point during the debate, Phelan asked members to not use the word “racism” when Democrats were arguing that the bill would have disparate impacts on minority groups.

“We can talk about racial impacts without accusing members of this body of being racist,” he said.

Texas Democrats originally walked out of the House at the end of the regular legislative session on May 30, preventing Republicans from being able to pass the bill. 

Gov. Greg Abbott then called on this legislature to have a special session that began in July. But the House’s agenda was quickly upended when Democrats fled the state to Washington D.C. to break quorum — the number of lawmakers needed present in order to pass legislation. Democrats held out throughout the duration of the first special session, leading to Abbott calling the second one in August. In all, it took 38 days before three Democrats returned to the Texas Capitol, giving the House the numbers it needed for a quorum

Here are some of the things SB1 will do: 

  • Bans 24 hour and creates uniform voting hours for every county in the state
  • Bans drive-through voting
  • Adds more liabilities for those assisting Texas with disabilities in voting
  • Gives more protections for partisan poll watchers 
  • Adds criminal penalties for poll workers if they do not allow a poll watcher to do their job
  • Adds an extra hour of required early voting
  • Adds voter ID requirements for voting by mail

Lawmakers spent the day barreling through dozens of proposed amendments to the bill, either voting to approve or deny them.

It is not unsual for the party in the majority to reject amendments proposed by the minority party when it comes to priority or controversial amendments. However, the House approved one amendment proposed by Rep. John Bucy III, D-Austin, to ensure SB1 is not used to prevent Texans with disabilities from voting.

As of 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, the House was still debating amendments, on the 41st one proposed.

We will update this story as the bill progresses throughout the day.

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