Politics

Texas Democrats Who Left Austin To Block Voting Bill Won’t ‘Telegraph’ 2nd Special Session Plans

After Democrats left Austin and blocked legislation from passing in the first legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott set a second to begin Saturday. But without a quorum it will meet the same fate.

Texas state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, dean of the Texas House of Representatives, is joined by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., left center, and other Texas Democrats, as they continue their protest of restrictive voting laws, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021.

Texas House Democrats who left Austin for Washington D.C. to break quorum remained mum on their future plans on Friday, declining to tip off state Republicans ahead of a second special legislative session.

Gov. Greg Abbott called the second session, set to begin Saturday, after the last one wound down without action on controversial legislation including the GOP-backed voting bill. Without a quorum, the new session would likely meet the same fate.

At a press conference on the U.S. Capitol steps Friday, the lawmakers would not provide any details on their plans as the next session neared.

"If you're looking for us to telegraph exactly what we're going to do over the next couple of days, we're not able to do that at this time,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “I think, you know, the governor would love us to do that, but we're not going to.”

Republicans have called on their Democratic colleagues to return to Texas in order to pass legislation deemed priorities by the governor.

Those include a bill tightening voter restrictions in the state, which critics have slammed as an attempt at voter suppression. Other items on the agenda include bail legislation, restrictions on transgender kids playing school sports and funding for the legislature, which Abbott previously vetoed after Democrats first walked out of the regular legislative session.

The governor also put an item on the agenda lower quorum requirements form two-thirds to a simple majority of legislators, in order to prevent similar walkouts in the future.

In a statement, Abbott said the Democratic House members “have a responsibility to finish the work” their colleagues in Austin started.

“I will continue to call special session after special session to reform our broken bail system, uphold election integrity, and pass other important items that Texans demand and deserve,” Abbott said. “Passing these Special Session agenda items will chart a course towards a stronger and brighter future for the Lone Star State.”

The Texas House of Representatives officially gaveled out of the first special session on Friday. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, criticized Democrats for blocking what he called “important issues” like retired teacher pay and child welfare system reforms.

“With a second special session beginning tomorrow, the Texas House remains committed to fulfilling its responsibilities as soon our Democratic colleagues return from Washington or from their vacations abroad,” Phelan said.

State Reps. Julie Johnson, D-Farmers Branch, and Jessica González, D-Dallas, are reportedly in Portugal on a previously planned vacation, according to a Texas Monthly reporter who broke the news on Twitter.

On Friday, the breakaway House Democrats touted their work blocking the voting bill and called on Congress to pass federal legislation that would override such bills in the future.

“If we have to come back here — I'm not saying we're leaving — but if we have to come back here, we're willing to fight,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston. “We're willing to risk whatever it takes in order to preserve the rights of our own selves to vote, but (also) those who will be coming behind us.”

While the group was relieved to have blocked the voting legislation thus far, state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Dallas, called the moment “bittersweet.”

“Yes, we managed to run the clock out on the first special session, but we are not naive to think that we have won the war and our jobs are done,” Collier said. “Tomorrow, we will face new challenges, with a new battle. So now is not the time to walk away.”

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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Paul DeBenedetto

Senior Producer

Paul DeBenedetto is Houston Public Media's senior web producer, writing and editing stories for HoustonPublicMedia.org. Before joining the station, Paul worked as a web producer for the Houston Chronicle, and his work has appeared online and in print for the Chronicle, the New York Times, DNAinfo New York, and other...

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