Democrats have criticized some items such as a prohibition on male student athletes participating in female sports and bail reform proposals, but they have been especially critical of Republicans’ election reform legislation.
Nine of the 13 Senate Democrats released a statement saying that they joined their House colleagues in Washington, but the four others — Sens. John Whitmire (D-Houston), Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), and Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) — showed up on the floor.
“Rather than continuing to fruitlessly debate Republicans who refuse to legislate in good faith, Texas Senate Democrats decided to take matters into their own hands in order to secure the voting rights of Texans — especially voters of color, seniors and those with disabilities — and work with our partners at the federal level to pass voting rights legislation that would rein in discriminatory voter suppression laws and unfair redistricting practices,” said the group that left.
“Over the coming days, Senate Democrats will work with our colleagues in the Texas House of Representatives and in the United States Congress to fiercely advocate for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act.”
The 18 Senate Republicans and the four Democrats who stayed in Texas voted on several bills on Tuesday.
Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) introduced the first bill to be approved by a chamber during this special session, Senate Bill (SB) 7, which provides extra payments to retired public education employees through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
SB 7 was approved by the senators from both parties unanimously.
“Final passage of this bill into law will require the House Democrats who have fled the state to return to the House for a quorum,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. “If they do not, this bill will die, but the Senate will pass SB 7 over and over until the House finally has a quorum.”
The second bill to be approved was SB 1, the Senate GOP’s priority election bill.
SB 1 and its previous versions have frequently been derided by Democrats as “Jim Crow 2.0,” a reference to the laws passed by Democrats in the 1800s that enforced racial segregation and aimed at reducing voter participation through poll taxes and literacy requirements.
Under SB 1, the main election bill currently at stake, the most significant new requirement to vote that would be added is an identification requirement for mail ballots — something already required for in-person voting.
Republicans tout their proposal as voter integrity legislation aimed at curbing and preventing potential voter fraud, with many of the other provisions of the bill prohibiting policies such as drive-through and 24-hour voting that were only recently experimented with last year.
SB 1 would also increase the minimum number of hours that polls must be open during early voting and create a requirement for employers to allow employees to vote during early voting if they so request.
“We’ve urged people to look at the provisions of the bill — not the national talking points out of D.C., but what is in the bill,” said Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) at a press conference on Wednesday.
“That’s what this is about,” said Hughes. “How much fraud is okay? None. How much suppression is okay? None.”
Though the four Democrats to remain in Austin did not join in the walkout, each voted against the bill and all Senate Republicans voted in favor of it.
After approving the election bill, the Senate moved forward to give the thumbs up once more to a bail reform proposal from Huffman, SB 6, and a related constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 3.
With the aim of establishing more safeguards to prevent judges from allowing violent criminals to be released on bond only to commit more crimes, both measures were approved unanimously by the senators present.
“Why is this legislation important? Because [. . .] individuals who are committing very violent crimes are getting out on multiple, either PR bonds or very low bonds,” said Huffman at the press conference. “This bill targets the violent, repeat offenders who are preying on our community.”
All legislation approved by the Senate will still need House approval before it can be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott and become law, meaning that no progress will be made until enough Democrats return to the House to constitute a quorum.
“The work we’re doing for the people of Texas is being wasted and squandered by people being out of the state who’ve chosen to break quorum,” said Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the chair of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus. “The work we’re doing, we’re doing in case they do come back.”
Acting under their rules, House Republicans ordered the chamber’s sergeant at arms to secure a quorum by arrest if necessary.
However, with Democrats outside of Texas, they are also outside of the jurisdiction where they can be arrested without cooperation from other law enforcement officials.
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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.