87th LegislatureIssuesState HouseState SenateElection Reform Bill Clears Major Hurdle in Texas House, Will Need Senate Approval of Amendments

The bill passed the Texas House upon second reading by a 79 to 37 vote. It will head back to the Senate after passing third reading.
August 26, 2021
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After a summer of intense and often vitriolic debate, the Texas House has given preliminary approval to Senate Bill (SB) 1 — the GOP-backed election reform bill that served as the Democrats’ justification for breaking quorum in three sessions of the legislature — has passed the Texas House by a vote of 79 to 37.

After clearing a final procedural hurdle known as third reading, SB 1 will go back to the Texas Senate for the chamber to consider whether to concur with the House amendments. If they do not concur with the amendments, they have the option of proposing a conference committee with the House to resolve the differences between the two versions of the bill.

The Texas Senate previously approved SB 1 by a vote of 18 to 11 earlier this month after a 15-hour filibuster by Senator Carol Alvarado (D-Houston).

Generally speaking, Democrats have characterized the bill as an effort to suppress votes while Republicans believe the proposed law will make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

The Republican majority in the Texas House already passed an election reform bill this year during the 87th legislature’s regular session. The chamber considered and amended Senate Bill (SB) 7 from May 6 until the early morning hours of May 7 and passed the bill after no fewer than 17 hours of deliberation. 

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However, after the Texas Senate concurred with the House amendments and sent it back to the lower chamber, SB 7 was lost when Democrats walked out and broke quorum on the last night the bill could be passed.

Thursday’s debate began with Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) admonishing state representatives to refrain from using the word “racism” and urging decorum and civil debate.

The House considered dozens of amendments to SB 1 but adopted only a handful of them. One amendment was by Murr himself tweaked and expanded portions of the bill, such as upgrading the penalty for turning away a poll watcher from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor. 

Among other changes, the Murr amendment also removed language that appeared to require a poll watcher to be given a warning before being removed for breaking the law.

With regard to mail-in ballot applications, the amendment added a provision for an opportunity for a voter to correct a mail-in ballot application if there were errors so he or she could ultimately receive a ballot instead of facing an outright rejection.

Another amendment by Rep. John Bucy III (D-Austin) included a broad stroke provision in the bill that intended to protect the right of persons with disabilities to be given reasonable accommodations.

After a narrow vote, the House also passed an amendment by Representative Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) to require randomized audits of elections at the county level.

Initially, Slaton’s amendment passed by a vote of 59 to 57. The chamber then moved to verify the vote, meaning members’ names were called one at a time to confirm their vote. The verification resulted in the amendment passing by a vote of 63 to 53.

Under the Texas Constitution, special sessions may only last up to 30 days, which means lawmakers have until September 5 to pass the election reform bill.

Otherwise, Gov. Abbott would have to call another special session and the legislature would have to start the process from square one.

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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.