87th LegislatureIssuesState HouseState SenateArlington Republican Proposes Rule to Punish Texas House Members Who Walk Out of Special Session

As they did during the regular session, Democrats may break quorum during the special session to block a Republican election reform bill.
July 8, 2021
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On Thursday morning, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) introduced a resolution that could result in sanctions against members of the Texas House who break quorum by leaving the chamber during deliberations. 

Tinderholt filed House Resolution 5 on the first day of the 87th Texas legislature’s special session. Among other items of business, Abbott called the session to consider election reform legislation, such as the “election integrity and security” bill Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) introduced Wednesday.

Though Tinderholt introduced an almost identical proposal in 2017 during the 85th legislature, the renewed focus on maintaining a quorum follows a regular legislative session in which Democrats walked out of the chamber to break quorum and destroy a Republican-backed election reform bill by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park).

In a press release, Tinderholt pointed to the previous walkout and said he would “be present and ready to vote on the people’s business” per his oath of office.

“A number of highly important issues facing Texas are at stake,” Tinderholt said. “The vast majority of House Democrats have already shown their willingness to walk out when they do not like the legislation before them.”

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“It is the height of insanity to allow the Democrats, who are paid by taxpayers, to take the same actions again and again. HR 5 will at least make legislators weigh the consequences before they decide to abdicate their oaths of office a second time,” he added.

If Tinderholt’s resolution is successful, state representatives will be able to make motions to punish absent members even when there is no quorum. The resolution would add language to the rules to allow the Texas House to take away committee chairmanships, membership on “procedural committees,” and the seniority privileges of those who broke quorum.

These new provisions would be in addition to the existing language that allows the body to initiate a “call of the House.”

“All absentees for whom no sufficient excuse is made may, by order of a majority of those present, be sent for and arrested, wherever they may be found, by the sergeant-at-arms or an officer appointed by the sergeant-at-arms for that purpose, and their attendance shall be secured and retained,” the rules of the Texas House read.

Forcing absent lawmakers back to the capitol would likely be a messy and controversial process that would involve the deployment of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to arrest state representatives. With the legal assistance of then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, Sergeant at Arms Rod Welsh attempted this course of action in 2003 when Democrats successfully fled the state for four days to quash a Republican redistricting plan.

This summer, some Democrats have openly pondered the possibility of leaving the state to kill a Republican election reform bill. Among those who broke quorum in 2003 were current state Reps. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas), Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Houston), Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo), and Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston).

A copy of Tinderholt’s resolution can be found below.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.