Texas Legislature

Texas House Lacks Quorum Again as Second Special Session Gets Started

Many Democrats continue to stay out of the Capitol, to avoid voting on an elections bill.

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For the start of a second straight special session of the state legislature, Democrats have denied the Texas House a quorum.

The special session began Saturday, and although there were more Democrats in the chamber than in the first, there weren't enough to meet the necessary number to take a vote.

The numbers were not there Monday when the House met at 4 p.m. One hundred members are needed to hold a vote.

“You know, we are taking this a couple of days at a time here, and what I can tell you is that our House Democratic Caucus continues to oppose these anti-voter bills with everything that we have,” caucus chairman Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) said.

But some think they will have the numbers soon.

“It is just a matter of time. They are in a no-win situation. They have really boxed themselves in, so yeah, I think we will have a quorum sooner rather than later and we will get to the work of the people,” Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has called for the arrest of lawmakers who left during the first special session. A Travis County Judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday, barring their arrest for now. The suit was issued by a group of Democrats, including Rep. Ramon Romero (D-Fort Worth).

“It is a temporary restraining order. It is temporary. They have actions that they can ask the courts as well to expedite that hearing, but what we’re asking is the fundamental question, does the Speaker of the House have the right to arrest a member of the House in order to force quorum,” Romero said.

Abbott’s press secretary, Renae Eze, released the following statement.

“The ruling by the Travis County judge is contrary to the Texas Constitution and violates the separation of powers between the different branches of government. We are confident that this overstep will be overturned. Texas Democrats need to stop the charades and get back to work.”

"Any legal filing that seeks to undermine the Texas Legislature and the Texas Constitution will be met with a swift response, and we are confident that the recent challenges made by a dwindling number of House Democrats to subvert the authority of the legislative branch will be overturned," said Enrique Marquez, communications director for House Speaker Dade Phelan.

Other Texas Democrats remain in Washington, some of whom lashed out at their former fellow holdouts who returned to the Capitol. But the group that is staying behind — which last weekend was less than half the more than 50 Democrats who originally fled to Washington — is not large enough to keep denying the Legislature a quorum.

“Since the beginning of the quorum break, I have been very honest about our options in Texas — we don’t have many. This is by design,” said state Rep. James Talarico, one of the Democrats who returned. “Under one-party rule: democracy suffers.”

The slow return comes as Republicans in the Texas Senate are already advancing a voting bill that is similar to the one Democrats blocked last month. And in another setback for Democrats, the Texas Supreme Court on Monday rejected their lawsuit that sought to overturn Republican Gov. Greg Abbott vetoing the paychecks of more than 2,000 legislative staffers after Democrats walked out on the voting bill the first time in May.

Abbott has said the Legislature can restore the funding in a special session. He had also threatened Democrats with arrest after they had left Texas, but those that returned did so voluntarily.

For a second time this summer, Republicans on Monday authorized locking the doors of the House chamber so that lawmakers could only leave with permission. They will return Tuesday, which would mark four days into a 30-day special session that is now the GOP’s third attempt to pass an elections overhaul.

Texas would ban 24-hour polling locations, drive-thru voting and give partisan poll watchers more access under the bill that Democrats have twice foiled. But in the end, the Democrats find themselves in much the same position they were in a month ago: without the votes to permanently block the bill in the Texas Capitol, and without the votes to pass federal legislation in Congress.

“My expectation is that enough members will honor their obligation to show up and do the people’s work,” said state Rep. Jim Murphy, chairman of the House Republican Caucus.

Copyright NBC 5 News and The Associated Press
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