87th LegislatureState HouseTexas House Achieves a Quorum After Several Democrats Return to Capitol, Adjourns Until Monday

The Texas legislature has been unable to move on any legislation since the regular session gaveled out in May.
and August 19, 2021
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After going without a quorum since the first special session began in July, enough Texas House members returned to the floor on Thursday evening to proceed with the legislative body’s agenda.

Governor Greg Abbott called a second special session after the entirety of the first session he called was wasted due to less than the prerequisite 100 members being present in the chamber. 

Almost all Democrats refused to show up for the special session in anticipation of Republicans advancing legislation its proponents say would make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” The latest versions of the election reform bills were written by Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Representative Andrew Murr (R-Junction).

With the resignation of Representative Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio) taking effect and the vacancy left by now-Congressman Jake Ellzey (R-TX-6), only 99 members were needed for a quorum Thursday.

Some Democrats had trickled back in the preceding few weeks, but Thursday, Reps. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), Ana Hernandez (D-Houston), and Armando Walle (D-Houston) made an appearance, causing the House to meet the quorum requirement stated in the body’s rules.

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The trio released a statement of their return, saying that they were “proud of the heroic work” that Democrats achieved by being in Washington, D.C., but that now it was time to “continue the fight on the House Floor.”

“It is time to move past these partisan legislative calls, and to come together to help our state mitigate the effects of the current COVID-19 surge by allowing public health officials to do their jobs, provide critical resources for school districts to conduct virtual learning when necessary, while also ensuring schools are a safe place for in-person instruction, and will not become a series of daily super-spreader events,” they said.

The development follows a decision by Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) to issue civil arrest warrants for many of the absent members, and a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court affirming his authority to do so. So far, no lawmakers have in fact been arrested and forcibly returned to the capitol.

Several Democrats criticized the return of their colleagues, including Reps. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton), Donna Howard (D-Austin), and Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson).

“[W]e were literally on caucus calls for 2 hours this morning and none of the defecting Democrats mentioned they were planning on helping the Republicans pass voter suppression bills. Guess what the other defecting Democrats have accomplished by going back—NOTHING!” said Ramos.

Phelan thanked members for their commitment to the integrity of the chamber and said he “looked forward” to working with them “over the coming week or two.”

Though a special session can last up to 30 days, the lack of a quorum has whittled down the number of days state representatives have to pass bills and resolutions. Of course, if business remains unfinished, Abbott has the option of calling a third special legislative session. The current session must end on or before September 6.

The Texas House adjourned until 4:00 p.m. on Monday, at which time they will need to establish a quorum once again. The chamber referred a number of bills before dismissing members.

Democrats originally broke quorum at the end of the regular session in May, killing an earlier version of the election integrity legislation proposed by Texas House Elections Chairman Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) and Hughes.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.