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By Thwarting Voting Overhaul, Texas Dems Allow Special Agenda to Expire

Demonstrators join a rally to protest proposed voting bills on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Texas Democrats left the state to block sweeping new election laws, while Republican Gov. Greg Abbott threatened them with arrest the moment they return. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas — When Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives left the state on Monday in a bid to deny Republicans a quorum needed to conduct business, they also left a number of other consequential agenda items in limbo.

The principal items on the agenda set by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott were election overhaul and bail system revision bills, TWN previously reported, but lawmakers were expected to take up other bills on various issues. 

“It’s not surprising that Democrats would flee the state to prevent free and fair elections,” Republican Party of Texas Chairman Matt Rinaldi said in a written statement. “Thankfully, our Governor [sic] has the ability to call special sessions until they return and add all of our GOP priorities to the call. Our Republican speaker has the ability to revoke committee chairmanships currently held by Democrats, as well. This tantrum won’t prevent the passage of important legislation to protect our elections.”

Originally, Abbott had announced a split format for the two impending special sessions. The first special session, which officially began on July 8, would address issues such as property tax relief and protections for children in Texas’ foster-care system, among others. But the maneuvering by the Texas Democrats has thrown a wrench in their Republican colleagues’ plans.

Abbott’s agenda called for legislators to consider “[legislation]… concerning critical race theory as originally passed by the Texas Senate,” and a bill prohibiting “a student from competing in University Interscholastic League athletic competitions designated for the sex opposite to the student’s sex at birth.” While both of these items represent issues of importance to the Republican voting base, Abbott very carefully wove issues of bipartisan importance into the special session’s agenda.

While some of the agenda items Abbott had intended for the special session were issues core to the Republican platform, others pertained to benefits under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, safeguarding from cybersecurity threats and funding for legislative staffers’ salaries.

In doing so, Abbott forced Democrats to either go along with the session while powerless to prevent the passage of Republican’s landmark legislation or abandon their posts in a manner that could be seen as ultimately detrimental to their constituents. By deserting the session, the Democrats lost their opportunity, for now, to compromise on these issues.

“Most notably, the governor’s agenda for this special session doesn’t even include anything about the state’s crumbling electric grid, which failed in February and left millions without power and hundreds of Texans dead, resulting in the deadliest carbon monoxide poisoning event in recent U.S. history,” officials from the Texas Democratic Party said in a written statement.

The Democrat’s statement continued, “Instead, the governor’s list of issues to address during the special session is largely red meat for his base, such as banning transgender children from engaging in school sports that match their gender identity, even more funding for border security and his new border wall, abortion, social media censorship, and critical race theory, among others.”

In a memo released on Thursday, Texas House Speaker Rep. Dade Phelan announced he had stripped Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, of his position as speaker pro tempore. Moody had previously served as speaker pro tem for two sessions under two Republican speakers who had entrusted him with performing the duties of House speaker in their absence.

Nine Democratic Senators announced they too would leave Texas in protest of the planned election overhaul, although the upper chamber still had enough members present to keep a quorum and conduct business. For now, the special legislative session is still scheduled to conclude on Aug. 6.

“We went into this with eyes wide open,” Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Chris Turner said in a press conference. “We know exactly what will happen… our message is very simple. In the intervening time, we’re here to urge the folks in this building right behind us to pass federal voting rights legislation… our two U.S. Senators wrote the book on publicity stunts. What I’d say to Cornyn is we encourage him to work in a bipartisan manner to pass federal voting rights legislation.” 

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